NFL player, Army Ranger veteran Villanueva apologizes for standing during national anthem after coach calls him out
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he had wanted “100 percent participation” from his team to stay in the locker room during the anthem to avoid controversy.
Alejandro Villanueva, the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle and U.S. Army Ranger veteran who stood on the field during the national anthem on Sunday, has since apologized for doing so, saying he is “embarrassed” and that he “threw [his] teammates under the bus, unintentionally.”
“Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said on Monday during a press conference. “Every single time I see that picture of me, standing by myself, I feel embarrassed. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault, and my fault only. We as a team tried to figure it out, but obviously butchered it.”
“It was a very embarrassing part on my end,” he added. “When everyone sees an image of me standing by myself, everybody thinks the team and the Steelers are not behind me, and that is absolutely wrong. It’s quite the opposite.”
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Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Steelers, said the team captains were supposed to stand with Villanueva, but they got stuck waiting for a situation to clear up while trying to get onto the field, and then the national anthem began.
“There was a flag or something coming off the field so there was a bunch of Bears fans coming off the field holding that, going in front of us, so it kind of held us up,” Roethlisberger said. “We were going to go to the tunnel to stand together. By time all the chaos kind of happened in front of us, as we started to take our step the anthem started, so we stopped to show respect for the anthem.”
Villanueva was seen as the only player from his team standing during the national anthem at Sunday’s football game.
On Sunday, the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin announced that the team would stay in the locker room during the national anthem to avoid the controversy created by players kneeling during the U.S. national anthem. The announcement from Tomlin came Sunday morning after many teams and players launched and also announced planned protests during the anthem during their games.
Tomlin later said the team had decided not to come out of the locker room for the national anthem; he noted that the decision was not unanimous.
“Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin said.
“Many of them felt like something needed to be done. I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed that we have 100 percent participation or we do nothing. They discussed it for an appropriate length of time and they couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it. They were not going to be disrespectful in the anthem so they chose not to participate, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the President.”
The protests were started by football player Colin Kaepernick last year to protest what he believes to be problems in America, namely police brutality and black inequality. Kaepernick was not signed by a professional football team this year.
The protests took on a renewed vigor on Sunday after President Donald Trump called on players to stand and show respect to the anthem and flag. Otherwise, if any player kneeled during the national anthem, then that team’s owner should “fire that son of a b–ch.”
Trump also tweeted: “Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected.”
Trump continued: The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our national anthem.”
Tomlin said that his team is not going to play politics and they are “not participating in the anthem today not to be disrespectful towards the anthem, (but) to remove ourselves from the circumstance. People shouldn’t have to choose.”
However, Villanueva, who deployed three times to Afghanistan, left the Steelers’ locker room to go stand on the field and show his respect for the anthem, the flag and those who have served, are serving and who have died defending the American way of life.
He received loud cheers when he stood and the rest of the team received boos when they eventually came onto the field.
Villanueva stood alone at the entrance of the tunnel to the locker room, raising his hand over his heart and showing respect.
In 2016 Villanueva commented on Kaepernick’s protests and said: “I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year … when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year.”
He continued: “I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay. You can’t do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country.”
Villanueva graduated college from West Point, the United States Military Academy, and played football while at West Point. He was commissioned as an officer and attended Infantry, Airborne and Ranger schools. He deployed with the 10th Mountain Division for 12 months to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan as a rifle platoon leader. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with “V” for valor for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.
Villanueva volunteered for the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Ranger Orientation Program in 2013. He was assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion. His roles within the Battalion have included plans officer, platoon leader and company executive officer.
He then deployed two more times to Afghanistan.
Villaneuva’s commendations include the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge.