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Volume 24 No. 117
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Trump Takes On NFL: Steelers, Except For Army Vet, Stay In Locker Room During Anthem

Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva was the team's lone player to be present for the national anthem yesterday at Soldier Field, and his presence "surprised many members" of the team, according to a source cited by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. The source said that Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served terms in Afghanistan, was the lone Steeler to appear "despite an expectation from Saturday's players-only meeting that the entire team would remain in the locker room." Villanueva was a "key figure in the team's protest planning because of his background." The source said that players wanted to "accommodate Villanueva, who expressed during their 30-minute session that he didn't want to be singled out." Moving the protest off the field entirely was a "way to keep solidarity without isolating an individual." The source said, "That's where the confusion came in" (ESPN.com, 9/24). Steelers coach Mike Tomlin "stood on the sideline with assistant coaches Mike Munchak, Todd Haley and James Saxon" (TRIBLIVE.com, 9/24). Tomlin prior to the game said to CBS' Jamie Erdahl, "These are very divisive times for our country, and for us as a football team, it’s about us remaining solid. We’re not going to be divided by anything said by anyone. ... We’re not going to play politics" ("That Other Pregame Show,” CBSSN, 9/24). NBC’s Al Michaels said, “Leave it to Mike Tomlin. I always felt he was ahead of a lot of guys. He had his team in the locker room. He didn't want them to have to make a choice whether they were going to protest or kneel or whatever and he didn't want his team to play politics” (“FNIA,” NBC, 9/24).

TEAM DECISION
: Steelers CB Coty Sensabaugh said that Saturday's meeting was "uncomfortable in spots, but constructive." He added that there was "no yelling or anger with one another." Steelers DE Cameron Heyward said that those who "did address the group before the vote ... challenged each other and their fellow players not to [be] broken by whatever outcome they reached." In Pennsylvania, Jacob Klinger reported the players-only meeting "lasted 15 minutes" and ended with a team that had "never personally or collectively demonstrated during the national anthem deciding to stay out of sight while the song was sung." Steelers OT Chris Hubbard said that a vote was "split nearly in half," while fellow OT Ramon Foster added that the team "supported Villanueva standing just off of the field during the anthem performance." Steelers LB James Harrison "did not think anyone was exempt." Harrison: "We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously. But, I guess we weren't." The players' decision was relayed to Tomlin, who called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and "told him his players' plan" (PENNLIVE.com, 9/24). Steelers TE Vance McDonald: "By no means are we trying to limit anyone or restrict anyone on the team from having a voice, today, tomorrow, on social media, whatever platform they want to use. But collectively before the game, we wanted to do something together" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/25).

MIXED MESSAGE: In Pittsburgh, Stephen Nesbitt writes the protest was a "striking and symbolic image." But rather than "present a unified front, abstaining from a highly charged conversation, the Steelers’ position appeared unclear." Nesbitt: "Seen one way, they had Mr. Villanueva’s back. Seen another way, they stranded him" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/25). Also in Pittsburgh, Kevin Gorman wrote in an attempt to "show solidarity over a divisive issue, the Steelers instead left their hero soldier standing alone." Gorman: "What a shame it would be if all Sunday's protest did was divide the town with the great football team" (TRIBLIVE.com, 9/24).