Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke late Monday afternoon to clarify the team's decision to stay in the tunnel for the national anthem before Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.
They tried to make one message clear: they support our country and our troops.
“This is in no way shape or form a protest of the national anthem," Roethlisberger said. "It was a way for us to stay unified over the division and things going on in this country.”
READ BELOW: Roethlisberger's full statement released before the press conference
They said the decision to stand in the tunnel for the national anthem was made in a players-only meeting on Saturday night.
This came after several players said they wanted to do different things to protest. But the decision was ultimately made to make a statement together.
As for why teammate and retired Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva stood alone outside the tunnel, Heyward and Roethlisberger said that was never the plan – they were going to join him and they were inadvertently blocked from reaching him by people coming off the field.
“We never want to leave one man behind," Heyward said. "I know it looked like that in the picture and we wanted to make sure we reached out to Al personally. We didn't want him to ever feel like we didn't have his back.”
Steelers quarterback and team captain Ben Roethlisberger released this statement Monday afternoon after the team's decision to remain in the locker room for the playing of the national anthem before a game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday sparked a controversy:
I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team’s decision to remain in the tunnel for the national anthem yesterday. The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting.
- Pittsburgh Steelers fans upset, burn memorabilia over national anthem stance
- Mayor, players respond to Steelers' decision to not participate in national anthem
- Pittsburgh Steelers lineman, veteran Alejandro Villanueva's jersey listed as top seller
- VIDEO: Penguins' Ian Cole weighs in on Steelers' national anthem controversy
As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the anthem. I personally don’t believe the anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest. For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.
I appreciate the unique diversity in my team and throughout the league and completely support the call for social change and the pursuit of true equality. Moving forward, I hope standing for the anthem shows solidarity as a nation, that we stand united in respect for those people on the front lines protecting our freedom and keeping us safe. God bless those men and women.
© 2020 Cox Media Group