PITTSBURGH — The Steelers will be on the field for the national anthem “moving forward,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said alongside defensive end Cam Heyward at a press conference Monday at the team facility.
“What we do while we’re out there is yet to be determined,” said Roethlisberger, whose Steelers play at the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. “I know I want to be on the field, Cam wants to be on the field, and the guys in that locker room want to be on the field.”
Roethlisberger’s comments came shortly after he wrote on his website Monday that he wishes the Steelers handled their show of unity during the national anthem differently Sunday.
Roethlisberger wrote that he “was unable to sleep last night” as the Steelers’ method of protest weighed on him.
The Steelers decided to stay in the Soldier Field tunnel before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears in light of comments made by President Donald Trump about anthem protests by NFL players. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army ranger, was the lone Steeler standing just outside the tunnel, hand over heart, a move that one team source said surprised many players based on the unified approach outlined at Saturday’s players-only meeting.
Roethlisberger explained that the team captains asked Villanueva to meet them at the top of the tunnel, and amid “chaos” from Bears fans in the area and the anthem music starting, the players stopped short and Villanueva was left alone. Roethlisberger estimates players were about 20 feet behind Villanueva. “I regret not going down to Al, but Al didn’t know that we weren’t there,” Villanueva said. “Al thought we were standing with him. There was no division there. … It was just the way it appeared through pictures.”
Heyward said the captains have spoken with Villanueva, who was with the team during Monday’s meetings. Villanueva told Heyward he was “shocked” by the pictures, Heyward said.
Villanueva was not made available to the media as of late Monday afternoon, and he wasn’t visible in the locker room after Sunday’s game.
“He never wants to be the center of attention,” Heyward said of Villanueva not wanting to stand alone on the field.
Both players were clear they fully support the military and Sunday was not a boycott, but a stand of unity. Roethlisberger said in a statement released Monday that he had trouble sleeping Sunday night after the way things went down.
“I just felt like I wish that we would have been on the field,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s just my personal feeling on it. I’m entitled to that opinion. That’s what’s great about this country and what the troops are for. I wish we could have stood out there. What was important was being united as well, and that’s what we showed. We showed unity. Because that’s what we need in this country right now. There’s so much division. We need to stay together.”