Lone Steeler who stood during anthem: I threw my teammates under the bus unintentionally

Posted at 8:54 PM, Sep 25, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva garnered national attention on Sunday after being the only player on his team to stand on the field during the Star Spangled Banner. 

On Monday, Villanueva said he was "embarassed." 

"Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed to a degree because again, unintentionally I left my teammates behind," Villanueva told the media during a Monday news conference. 

Although photos showed Villanueva alone, his teammates were just feet behind him, standing in the tunnel as the national anthem was performed. 

On Sunday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that his team would not come on to the field during the national anthem as to not play politics. Dozens of NFL players across the league opted to kneel during the national anthem after President Donald Trump said players should be fired by the NFL for kneeling. 

A small number of NFL players have kneeled during the national anthem since last August when Colin Kaepernick sat in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. Trump on Friday called Kaepernick, an unsigned free agent, a "son of a b----."

Trump's comments sparked anger among some in the NFL, and drew ire from the majority of NFL owners. 

Villanueva played football at Army and served three tours of duty overseas. The 29-year-old is in his fourth season with the Steelers. 

Villanueva said that he just wanted to watch the national anthem while his teammates stayed in the tunnel. 

"There was a flag that was coming in from the previous celebrations and when I turned around to sort of signal everybody else to come so they wouldn’t leave me alone that’s when they were essentially unable to exit," he said. "At that moment, it was the decision of do you walk out of the national anthem and join your teammates, I know that would have looked extremely bad.

"Or as a team do you start moving halfway through the anthem. So essentially what we can get out of this is that we butchered our plan to sort of have a response for the national anthem and respect everyone’s opinion."

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger agreed that there was a miscommunication. 

"I regret not going down to Al, but Al didn’t know that we weren’t there," he said. "Al thought we were standing with him so there was no division there. We were 20-feet behind him. You can see in the pictures, we’re standing there."

Even though Villanueva served in the Army, he said he is not offended by players kneeling during the anthem. 

"Out of all these players in the NFL that are taking a knee, as a veteran I don’t take offense," he said. "In a big picture where there’s customized different things. Nobody thinks that when you’re taking a knee you’re offending the flag and they’re saying it and I don’t think anybody that is standing for the flag is not respecting the fact that there are a lot of injustices and racial divide in our country."

On Monday, Villanueva had one of the best selling jerseys in the league. 

"It’s completely wrong," Villanueva said. "And every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed to a degree because again, unintentionally I left my teammates behind. It wasn’t me stepping forward. I never planned to boycott the plan that the Steelers came up with. I just thought there would be some middle-ground where I can stand in the tunnel, nobody could see me, and then afterwards I wouldn’t talk to the media like I do all the time."