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Volume 24 No. 116
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Roethlisberger Says Steelers Plan To Be On Field For Anthem Moving Forward

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and DE Cam Heyward said that they "regretted how things played out" with their demonstration Sunday, and that the team "would be on the sidelines" for the anthem moving forward, according to a front-page piece by Ray Fittipaldo of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. That comes as Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva apologized for being the lone player present for the anthem, saying that his actions "made his teammates look bad." After a "hastily called players-only meeting Saturday night, the plan was for the team to remain in the tunnel during the anthem." However, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, approached Roethlisberger before the game and "asked if they could find some middle ground." He "wanted to be somewhere close to the field where he could see the flag and stand for the anthem." Roethlisberger and Heyward "agreed to the plan and wanted to stand" by Villanueva in a show of support. But in the "chaos after pregame festivities," some Bears personnel prevented Roethlisberger and Heyward from joining Villanueva "before the anthem started because they clogged the path in the tunnel." Villanueva said, "This plan sort of morphed to accommodate this tough moral dilemma I had on my hands. I stopped as soon as I saw the flag. That, to me, was enough. When I turned around to signal everyone else that’s when they were unable to exit. The decision was, do you walk out of the national anthem and join your teammates? I knew that would look bad." Villanueva "took ownership for going against the plan the team devised." Meanwhile, Roethlisberger last night "posted a statement on his personal website, saying he had a hard time sleeping Sunday night because of what happened before the game Sunday." It read in part, "Moving forward, we will be on the field. What we do when we’re out there will be determined." Villanueva said that he "would be fine with it" if some players decide to sit during the anthem (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/26). 

PLAN GONE WRONG: Villanueva called the anthem ordeal "out of control" because of the way it portrayed him as an outcast and the team as not supporting the anthem. Villanueva said that he "understands why teammates would be frustrated with him" (ESPN.com, 9/25). Villanueva: “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed. We butchered our plan" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/26). But in Pittsburgh, Sean Gentille writes Villanueva "came as close as anybody can to giving a set of answers that combined intellectual honesty and sensitivity to multiple sides." Unity is a "tough sell." Villanueva "took his best shot, and it was pretty good" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/26). Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: "The team handled it great. It was a no-win situation. They chose to do it in a very Pittsburgh fashion. They met privately. They discussed it as a team. They worked together as one team. ... Given the situation where there was really no win, and fully understanding that if one side wins, all sides lose -- the Steelers handled it as well as anyone on Sunday" (POST-GAZETTE.com, 9/25).

CENTER OF ATTENTION: In N.Y., Robertson & Lyons write if the ground under the NFL "shook from the national debate over race, patriotism, protest and the president, Pittsburgh might have in some ways felt like the epicenter." While the Steelers "stood inside the tunnel instead of standing on the sideline," the Penguins over the weekend confirmed that they would "accept an invitation to visit the White House" to celebrate their Stanley Cup win. Many people in Pittsburgh, both supporters and critics of Trump, "saw the Penguins’ announcement as an innocuous if rather oddly-timed statement about keeping a tradition of White House visits." Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse "worked in the Clinton administration," and Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle is a "well-known Clinton donor" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). Also in N.Y., Salena Zito writes under the header, "NFL Anthem Protests Leave Pittsburgh Fans Conflicted About Game They Love" (N.Y. POST, 9/26). Former Penguins player Georges Laraque said, "I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong. I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand. To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going. ... This is the last place the Stanley Cup should be" (CP, 9/25).