Steelers owner: Not taking field was meant to avoid a political statement
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The owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers said Tuesday that the team’s decision to remain in the locker room for the national anthem was meant to avoid making a political statement, rather than staging a protest.

“The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field. Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem – which was never our players’ intention,” Steelers owner Art Rooney II said in a statement.

Rooney’s statement comes after almost all of the team’s players on Sunday remained in the locker room during the national anthem, with the exception of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

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Villanueva, who served in Afghanistan with the Army, stood outside the locker room tunnel for the anthem.

“I also know that our players have tremendous respect for the members of our military services, including their teammate Alejandro Villanueva,” Rooney said in the statement.

“There was never any desire on the part of our players to show disrespect for out service members.” 

Villanueva later said he “unintentionally” made his teammates look bad by appearing on the field for the anthem.

“Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself I feel embarrassed,” said Villanueva.

There were widespread protests at games across the country on Sunday after President TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton takes swipe at 'false equivalency' in media coverage of 2016 election Trump asked Netanyahu if he actually cares about peace: report Official: Trump to urge North Korea to dismantle nuclear program in return for sanctions relief MORE criticized NFL players who chose to kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Trump has suggested suggested NFL owners fire players who protest during the anthem.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired,'" Trump said at a rally in Alabama.

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began kneeling last year during the anthem to protest racial injustice.

Rooney noted that his team’s players wanted to focus on playing football.

“The main thing we can do is learn from this and strive to come together remaining unified as a football team,” Rooney said. “I believe we are capable of accomplishing this with the support of our fans.”