The Pittsburgh Steelers stayed off the field during the U.S. national anthem before their 1 p.m. ET kickoff against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
And the move has nothing to do with protesting, said the team’s coach.
“We’re not going to play politics,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, as reported by ESPN. “We’re football players, we’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today—not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.”
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to.”
— Chase Williams WPXI (@chasepwilliams) September 24, 2017
Last year, the Steelers didn’t protest the anthem.
Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva stood outside the tunnel and stood for the anthem—the only player to do so for the team. Other players stayed in the tunnel.
The Bears players could be seen locking their arms during the anthem. None of them knelt.
Bears players interlocking arms.
No sign of the Steelers players for the national anthem at Soldier Field. pic.twitter.com/NdrKOph2cG
— Matt Zahn (@mattzahnsports) September 24, 2017
About a dozen or more players in the Jacksonville Jaguars-Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday took knees during the anthem.
President Donald Trump over the weekend ripped into the NFL over the anthem protests, which were started last season by ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
As if I didn’t already love Alejandro Villanueva enough, THIS!!! ?????? pic.twitter.com/M3EVrc8cfT
— Susan G. Emery (@TheSusanGEmery) September 24, 2017
“If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” he tweeted Sunday morning. He added that “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN.”
If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Reports said that last year, NFL TV ratings dropped by about 8 percentage points.
“Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.,” Trump also tweeted Sunday.
The NFL issued a statement in an attempt to “justify the total disrespect” some players have for the United States, he wrote. “Tell them to stand!” he tweeted.
“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” he also tweeted Saturday.
A number of players in both the NFL and NBA issued critical comments of Trump, while some indicated that they won’t stand for the anthem.
Correction: An earlier version of the article did not indicate that other Steelers were in the tunnel during the anthem behind Alejandro Villanueva who was the lone player to stand outside the tunnel.