PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) -- Every member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, except for one, remained in the locker room as the national anthem played before their game with the Chicago Bears.
Former Army Ranger and current left tackle Alejandro Villanueva stood near the tunnel with his hand over his heart for the national anthem, the rest of the team remained in the locker room.
Alejandro Villanueva was the only Steeler to come out for the National Anthem, standing in the tunnel. pic.twitter.com/L4EtxRQSvA
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 24, 2017
Coach Mike Tomlin stood by himself on the sideline.
Many NFL teams have been issuing statements voicing their displeasure after President Trump called for NFL owners to suspend or fire players who protested the national anthem.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers would skip the national anthem altogether and remain in the locker room.
"There are some very divisive times for our country," Tomlin said. "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 are not going to let divisive times and divisive individuals affect our agenda," Tomlin said.
Tomlin had said before the game that Pittsburgh's players would remain in the locker room and that "we're not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda." Tomlin added that the Steelers made this choice "not to be disrespectful to the anthem but to remove ourselves from this circumstance. People shouldn't have to choose."
Defensive end Cameron Heyward discussed the team's decision in the locker room after the game.
"Everybody's given their platform. And, you know, there's a lot of people who look up to us, and we appreciate every single person," Heyward said. "For one person to call shame on multiple people and say we should lose our jobs because we care, that's just not right."
Heyward said he wouldn't call the controversy a distraction.
"We stand by our choice," he said. "The main thing we have to gain from this is, it isn't just one day. We're out in the community, we're trying to make changes, not only by one person, but as a team."
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Regarding Villanueva's decision to stand near the tunnel, Heyward said, "Al's a hell of a man. I appreciate everything he does. Just thinking about... you know, we have multiple people that have family members that serve our country and we never want to take anything away from them. We never want to turn our back on our military. But there was a stand made by multiple people, multiple teams, and you know, we all want to stick together through this."
Heyward didn't say if the team would stay in the locker room for subsequent games this season, but said the issue won't only come up on Sundays.
"It doesn't continue [next] Sunday. It continues on Monday," Heyward said. "We have to get back in the community. Just making a stand doesn't do it."
The decision sparked some divisive reactions among fans.
"I absolutely loved Tomlin's stance on it because what he did was say, 'We're not involved in this. It's not political and we want this to be about football,'" Janice Spurlok, of Harrisburg, said.
"I was a little disappointed they stayed in the locker room," Dan Campbell, of Valencia, said.
"Each individual should be able to speak what they want to speak," Lloyd Foster, of the North Side, said.
"I feel like it's their choice as athletes and as citizens," Niki Campbell, of Valenica, said.
Some Steelers fans felt that the protests were inappropriate.
"I think they should show protesting in different ways," Tim Zimmerman, of New Castle, said. "I'm from the old school, so I was always that one with my hand across my chest on my heart with the American flag."
More than 100 players sat or knelt, the form of protest started last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick is now a free agent, and supporters believe teams have avoided signing him because of his protest.
In earlier NFL games Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars players locked arms in solidarity, with dozens kneeling during the anthem for their London game.
Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis also joined them, taking a knee during the anthem.
The show of defiance comes after President Trump renewed his demand that NFL owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem in protest, taking to Twitter and urging fans to boycott the sport to force change.
"If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast," Trump wrote. "Fire or suspend!"
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a tweet that the league will re-air a unity television advertisement Sunday night that it first ran during February's Super Bowl.
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