PITTSBURGH – The only member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to take the field for the anthem now says he regrets his actions and apologized to his teammates and coach Monday.
Alejandro Villanueva, a Steelers lineman and U.S. Army veteran, was pictured standing alone before Sunday’s game during the national anthem while the rest of the team refused to take the field in protest. His stand has made his jersey one of the top sellers in the NFL.
“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said in a press conference Monday. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed.”
The team had apparently agreed Saturday evening to stay in the tunnel, but Villanueva made a last-minute decision Sunday to get a look at the flag, telling only the team leaders. However, when the anthem started with him alone, outside the tunnel, he said it would have “looked extremely bad” to walk back to his teammates, according to ESPN.
He apologized for breaking ranks without giving others the opportunity to join him.
“When everybody sees a picture of me standing by myself, everybody thinks the team and the Steelers are not behind me, and that’s absolutely wrong,” Villanueva said. “The entire team would have been out there with me, even the ones who wanted to take a knee would have been there with me.”
Villanueva said his team would have joined him if they had known about the “extreme circumstances” he was going through before the game. Villanueva said he had soldiers and wounded veterans texting him to make sure he would take the field. He said the fact that they were about to play at Soldier Field also influenced him.
According to WPXI, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive lineman Cam Heyward wanted to go with him in solidarity, but were blocked by congestion in the tunnel before the anthem. Villanueva confirmed that report Monday, according to the station.
Villanueva, who has been celebrated widely by those who aren’t in favor of NFL players kneeling in protest, said he feels bad that his action broke an appearance of unity among the Steelers.
“I’ve made the Steelers look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only,” Villanueva said. He also apologized to coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the team.