”We don’t care, largely, professionally speaking. We have personal opinions yes. Professionally, we’re about to kick a ball off.”
And Tomlin would prefer to get back to doing his job, a concept complicated by the fallout from the visual of 52 of his 53 players remaining in the tunnel while the anthem played at Soldier Field as left tackle Alejandro Villanueva – a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger – stood alone with his hand over his heart on the fringe of the field as ”The Star-Spangled Banner” blared.
Villanueva apologized on Monday for what he called the team’s ”butchered” plan to have him remain at the front of the line but still out of sight.
While longtime fans took to social media or inundated the team’s headquarters with phone calls and emails in anger, the franchise tried to find a way to clearly explain its stance it stresses wasn’t really a stance at all.
Villanueva, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive end Cam Heyward went to great lengths on Monday to point out the team was not disrespecting the anthem by not participating but simply trying to extricate from the dilemma entirely.
Team president Art Rooney II released an open letter to fans on Tuesday to clear up what he called a ”misperception” of the club’s actions.
”The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field,” Rooney wrote. ”Unfortunately that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem, which was never our players’ intentions.”