Among the images from Sunday’s Steelers-Bears game was one of Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva standing by himself at the end of the tunnel to the field during the playing of the national anthem while the rest of the team’s players waited deeper in the tunnel to come on the field at the end of the song.
The Steelers had said that all players were going to remain inside until after the anthem and linebacker James Harrison said Villanueva’s deviation from that plan took him by surprise. Villanueva spoke to the media on Monday and shed some light on what happened.
Villanueva, who served in the United States Army, said that he spoke to Ben Roethlisberger on Saturday night after the team came to a decision about their plan for Sunday and asked if he could stand at the front of the team so he could see what was happening on the field. He said he walked to a point where he could see the flag on the field, but wound up too far in front of his teammates and didn’t want to walk back to the team during the song.
Villanueva said he did not want to give the impression that the team was not unified and said several times that it was “my fault only” that things didn’t go off as planned.
“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said in a video from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Jerseys and shirts with Villanueva’s number have been selling well since the anthem on Sunday and many have attributed that to where he was standing during the anthem. Villanueva said that impression is “completely wrong” and that he feels embarrassed every time he sees a picture of him standing by himself.
Villanueva spoke passionately about his service during his 15 minutes with the media and said that he does not believe that players who choose not to stand disrespect that service, adding that he’s heard thanks for it from players who have knelt and that he’d be OK with teammates who chose to kneel even though he’d never do it himself.
“We as a team tried to figure it out, obviously we butchered it, but I have learned that … I can’t tell you that I know what my teammates have gone through,” Villanueva said. “I’m not gonna pretend like I have the righteous kind of voice that you should stand up for the national anthem.”