There might be an awful lot of returned #78 jerseys in the next couple weeks.
Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers tackle who famously stood alone on the field for the playing of the national anthem on Sunday while the rest of his team stayed inside the tunnel, has now revealed that he actually intended to remain in the tunnel with his fellow players.
Villanueva said on Monday, “Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally. Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.”
Villanueva’s explanation for his appearance on the field, is that he had asked to stand in front of the team with the captains. However, he didn’t stop when he got to the front of the tunnel. Instead, he walked out where he ended up in full-view of fans and cameras.
Villanueva also took a moment to defend his coach, Mike Tomlin, who came under fire for being critical of Villanueva in a post-game press conference. The Ranger and three tour Afghan veteran said, “For anybody who thinks Coach Tomlin is not as patriotic as you can get in America, I’m offended by that.”
Villanueva’s #78 jersey had ballooned up to become the highest-selling jersey in the league on Monday, based on the premise that he had defied his team’s wishes and chosen to come stand for the national anthem.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wrote on his personal website, that he wasn’t able to sleep Sunday night. Consumed by the idea that that the Steelers should have not handled the anthem protest the way they did. Saying that it presented a disorganized and inconsistent front. Roethlisberger says he wished the Steelers had, “approached it differently.”
Villanueva was awarded the Bronze Medal for Valor during his service in the Army.
Villanueva would not however speak about his personal beliefs or feelings towards President Donald Trump, who has derided those athletes who opt to take a knee or sit out for the playing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’
‘I don’t have anything to say about the commander in chief and his decisions,’ said Villanueva.
‘Nothing to comment about what the president says.’
Video from the game on Sunday seems to confirm Villanueva’s account, as he can be seen walking to the end of the tunnel wall.
He then remains standing where he is, and begins to mouth the anthem with his hand over his heart, something that his follow players also did in the tunnel as it was not a part of the boycott.
Villanueva was also hidden from almost all of the crowd in his perch as well, with only those close to the tunnel entrance along with photographers and camera crews getting clear shots of him just off the sideline.
And after the anthem finished playing, Villanueva stood in place before running out when the rest of his team took the field, suggesting that he in no way meant to break free from the pack.
His teammates were not aware that this was an accident however, and a number of the players could be seen staring Villanueva down as they took the field.
The crowd immediately began booing the team, but given it was an away game it was unclear if that was specifically directed at them for the anthem boycott.
Prior to Villanueva’s appearance, the man who won two Super Bowls for the city of Pittsburgh said that he now regretted the fact that the team refused to stand on the field for the national anthem during Sunday’s game.
‘I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team’s decision to remain in the tunnel for the National Anthem yesterday,’ said Roethlisberger in a statement posted to his personal website.
‘The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting.’
He closed out by saying: ‘I appreciate the unique diversity in my team and throughout the league and completely support the call for social change and the pursuit of true equality.
‘Moving forward, I hope standing for the Anthem shows solidarity as a nation, that we stand united in respect for the people on the front lines protecting our freedom and keeping us safe. God bless those men and women.’