CHICAGO — In a sign of solidarity, the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room during the national anthem before their 1 p.m. ET kickoff with the Chicago Bears.
Players for the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans did the same before their game.
An NFL official told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that no fines are being considered for those players who stayed in the locker room during the anthem.
As the anthem began in Soldier Field, several Steelers coaches were on the sideline, including head coach Mike Tomlin, while the players were not present. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, offensive line coach Mike Munchak and running backs coach James Saxon also were spotted.
Players took the field within a few seconds of the anthem’s end, just after fireworks launched; quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was one of the first players out of the tunnel. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, was seen on the CBS broadcast at the edge of the tunnel during the anthem, hand over heart.
Roethlisberger made it a point of emphasis after the Steelers’ 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears to say that the team’s decision was a unified one, and that he has the “utmost respect” for “our troops and those that serve this country.”
In Nashville, the Seahawks and Titans both issued statements saying their players were united in their actions.
“As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem,” the Seahawks’ statement said. “We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed in continuing to work towards equality and justice for all.”
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said in a pregame radio interview that coach Pete Carroll met with a few players individually Saturday, prior to a “pretty emotional” meeting by the entire team later that night.
The Seahawks walked onto the field after the anthem with players locking arms.
“We showed we have power as people and that’s what we were doing today. I think that it was super impressive,” Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett said after the Seahawks’ 33-27 loss.
The Titans took a similar approach with their statement.
“As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today. The players jointly decided this was the best course of action. Our commitment to the military and our community is resolute and the absence of our team for the national anthem shouldn’t be misconstrued as unpatriotic.”
Steelers coach told CBS’ Jamie Erdahl before the game that the team wanted to “remove ourselves from the circumstance” and means no disrespect.
“We’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said. “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.”
The Steelers did not protest the anthem last year and had stayed relatively neutral on the national discussion, but President Donald Trump’s verbal attack on NFL players who protest appears to have changed things.
Team president Art Rooney II released a statement regarding the pregame protest.
Several Steelers leaders, including defensive end Cameron Heyward, linebacker James Harrison and others, were involved in the discussion about Sunday’s protest, one team source said. Those discussions took hold Saturday as the team traveled to Chicago and got situated at the team hotel.
“We will not be divided by this,” Tomlin said after the game. “We’ve got a group of men in there that come from different socio-economic backgrounds, races, creeds, ethnicities, religions and so forth. That’s football. That’s a lot of team sports. But because of our position we get drug into bulls—, to be quite honest with you. Some have opinions; some don’t. We wanted to protect those who don’t and we wanted to protect those who do.”