During the national anthem protests the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team, save for one brave player, hid in the locker room to avoid the issue.
According to the Post Gazette, the backlash from fans was so brutal that the Steelers have declared they will participate in the next national anthem, 100 percent. Steelers Center Maurkice Puncey told reporters “I promise you one thing this week – we’ll all be standing out there for the national anthem.”
The Daily Wire reports that Steelers’ Coach Mike Tomlin explained to reporters and fans that the Steelers remained in the locker room to avoid controversy. The concern was that some of the players expressed a desire to take a knee during the national anthem so Tomlin decided everyone should hide in the locker room to show unity.
One player, Alejandro Villanueva, found himself unable to continue hiding in the shadows and decided to stand for the anthem in the tunnels. While this move brought the adoration of fans, it drew ire from the coach and fellow teammates, forcing Villanueva to apologize for throwing his team “under the bus” after being rebuked by his coach.
Yet the unity Tomlin was looking for failed horrendously when it came to the fans. Christain News Alerts reported that one fan, Robert L. Williams, was so enraged by the disrespect from his team that he burnt his Steelers memorabilia in a YouTube video, declaring he’d never go to another game.
Susan Moedinger, owner of the Steelers merchandise store Steel City Sports, said the outrage from fans was immense. On Monday her store received a stream of calls and posts on social media from customers stating they would never spend their money in the store again.
All of the rage and frustration had the desired impact fans were looking for and the Steelers are looking to apologize. Pouncey assured fans and reporters that the Steelers team would definitely be respecting the national anthem and would be present on the field for the upcoming games pre-game activities.
He assured the public that the team was patriotic, despite the recent show of disrespect: “Trust me. We respect our flag and we respect the military. I think the bigger message was we were trying to stay out of it. That we should unite inside. It was all about the flag. It was just a big misunderstanding. Trust me, I’m very sorry to anyone who feels the way we do. I care about the flag dearly. Trust me, this team will be out there standing Sunday.”
Pouncey was careful to clarify that the team’s intent was to participate, but there may be some who act on their own and continue to show disrespect. “We’re going to go out there and do the right thing,” Pouncey said. “If someone decides not to, then they’ll have to answer to that. I’m telling you that the Pittsburgh Steelers will go out there and do the right thing.”
Due to the backlash, Pittsburgh Steelers will be standing for the Anthem. Will more teams follow suit?
He even pointed fingers at the media, blaming them for all of the protests and political uproar over the weekend. “I hate that the media tries to put politics in this and all this different stuff,” he said. “Trust me, this team loves this flag. We love how we represent Al. We feel just as bad as everyone else does. Trust me, we do. This week, we’ll show that. We’re sorry for all of our fans who are upset about the things that went down. I honestly think we’ll come together and this will be all out the window.”
It’s encouraging to see the Steelers realizing the impact of their choice this past the weekend and that they are looking to make it up to fans. It will take more than one game to reconnect with those fans who were outraged by their actions, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Perhaps now the NFL protesters will realize that their desire to call attention to alleged racial injustice or to politically and ideologically oppose President Trump should be expressed in a different way. Kneeling or refusing to be present for the national anthem only sends the message of disrespect to our great country and wonderful men and women in the military, and that cannot be allowed to stand.