Steelers players who choose to kneel for the national anthem will have the support of Mike Tomlin and the organization, the coach said in a video conference call Tuesday.
Tomlin spoke for the first time since George Floyd died May 25, saying he supports players’ statements and actions “as long as it’s done so thoughtfully and with class.”
“We’ve spent a lot of group time talking about the ongoing issues, talking about the platform that they have and how to best utilize it and how to do so thoughtfully,” Tomlin said, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “Our position is simple: We’re going to support our players and their willingness to participate in this, whether it’s statements or actions.
“You guys know my feelings. I’ve stated it in the past: Statements are good, but impact is better, particularly long-term impact. Those that have a desire to participate in a positive way, they’re going to be supported by us.”
Tomlin and the Steelers last visited the anthem issue as a team in 2017. They stayed in the locker room together during the national anthem at Chicago’s Soldier Field in late September of that year. But offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who toured in Afghanistan, was photographed standing just inside a tunnel entrance with his hand over his heart.
It was not what it seemed players said then and still are saying now.
“The thing that pissed me off about that is what we were trying to do is remain out of the spotlight, and it got turned upside down,” captain Cam Heyward said last week, via Pryor. “To know that we were looked at as leaving one of our brothers out and leaving Al [Villanueva] out to dry when really, [the team captains] got separated by a Play60 flag that was coming through and by the time the national anthem started, we were separated.
“It was never meant for us to ostracize a player. We are living in a climate where guys need to know they have a platform and they should be able to voice their opinions.”
Some Steelers players privately have expressed plans to kneel this season, according to Pryor.