Ben Roethlisberger

Combating divisiveness, Steelers opt to skip national anthem in display of team unity

Combating divisiveness, Steelers opt to skip national anthem in display of team unity

All eyes were on the NFL Sunday afternoon after President Donald Trump told his supporters at a rally on Friday night that team owners should fire any "son of a bitch" who protests or takes a knee during the National Anthem.

The remarks fell on deaf ears as the Pittsburgh Steelers took a stance against President Trump before their 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.

In a display of unity, the Steelers were one of three teams on Sunday — along with the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — who remained in the locker room during the national anthem in an attempt to combat divisiveness.

The Steelers decision was agreed upon during a players' only meeting at the team hotel on Saturday night.

"You know, by no means, no way shape or form, was there any disrespect intended towards our troops and those that serve this country," Steelers quarterback and team captain Ben Roethlisberger said. "We all have the utmost respect for them obviously. They give us the freedom to play this game. Last night, obviously with all the issues going on if you will, we had a players' only meeting after the team meeting last night, we decided we were going to talk about what we were going to do because we know some guys wanted to take a knee, guys wanted to stand.

"We said whatever we do, we need to make sure we are unified as one group because that is what we are about and that is what it should be about. Staying together as one unit, one group, one brotherhood, things like that so rather than having one guy kneel, one guy stand, the conclusion was made by everybody that the best to do was to stay in the locker (or in the tunnel if you will) and show respect that way."

When the Steelers ran out of the tunnel following the anthem, they were met by a chorus of boos from the Soldier Field crowd

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who revealed in a pregame interview on Sunday that the team wouldn't be taking the field during the national anthem, made it clear that the most important aspect of the team's decision was to stay united

"They were not going to be disrespectful during the anthem so they choose not to participate during the anthem, but at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the President," Tomlin said. "So, we decided to sit out and not take the field, to remove ourselves from it, so we could focus on playing football. Those were our intentions."

While nearly every member of the Steelers organization stayed in the locker room during the national anthem, one player stood in front of the tunnel.

Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former United States Army Ranger and Captain who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, was seen in the tunnel with his right hand over his heart.

Villanueva wasn't available for comment following Sunday's game, but his teammates made it clear that they had no problem with his decision to distance himself from the rest of the team.

"Al is a hell of a man and I appreciate everything he does," Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "This man went over and served our country like no other and we've commended him every single day." 

In addition to the support of their head coach, the Steelers had the backing of team President Art Rooney II for their decision.

While President Trump may not agree with the displays around the league as evidence by him going on another Twitter rant about wanting to see the NFL change its policy regarding the national anthem, commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't plan on fining any players for their Week 3 protests.

If that's the case, would these displays continue throughout the entire season? Possibly.

"It isn't just one day," Heyward said. "We're out in the community. We're trying to make changes, not by just one person but as a team. It doesn't matter what goes on. We're trying to build a better society, a better city and a better America for everyone."

What Mitchell Trubisky learned in that pre-draft workout with Ben Roethlisberger

What Mitchell Trubisky learned in that pre-draft workout with Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger came away from his pre-draft workout with Mitchell Trubisky — the two share the same agent — impressed, an opinion which the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers detailed on Wednesday. The feeling was mutual for Trubisky. 

“Yeah, Big Ben’s awesome,” Trubisky said. “It was really special and really a privilege to learn from him. … “I’ve really looked up to him ever since he came out because he’s an Ohio guy as well. He came from Miami, Ohio. And it’s unique he was able to have success early on in his career and that’s what you try to duplicate as a quarterback coming into this league, and just how he carries himself, how competitive he is. I just try to take those things and hopefully add them into my own game as well.”

Roethlisberger — who went to high school in Findlay, Ohio, which is about two and a half hour west of Trubisky’s hometown of Mentor — won every game he started his rookie year and won his first of two Super Bowls a year later. Beyond his success quarterbacking the Steelers over these last 14 years, though, Trubisky felt he could learn something from how Roethlisberger has been a leader in Pittsburgh’s locker room. 

“(He) owns the locker room, no matter where you’re at,” Trubisky said. “I think it’s just the type of person you are. You’re competitive. You’re an alpha. You know how things are supposed to be done and you won’t settle for anything less than what has to be done. You’re settling for nothing less than excellence. That’s what he strives he for and, I mean, that’s what we’re all striving for.”

Eventually, the Bears expect Trubisky to command the locker room in the same fashion (he certainly has the self-belief and confidence to do so). And perhaps he'll have the same kind of trophy-driven success over a long period of time enjoyed by Roethlisberger, too. While Trubisky isn't in control of his career just yet, that was another lesson he took away from Roethlisberger.

"One of the big pieces of advice he gave me was really take control of your career," Trubisky said. "And I think that's kind of how he instills how he carries himself in the locker room, on the practice field, at the line of scrimmage. The play is going to go how he wants it and that's really how I want my career to go. Just exactly what you dream of, and take control and get everyone to buy into the same plan. I think that's how you create a winning culture -- really taking control, really taking ownership and hopefully that trickles down through the rest of the team."

Why Ben Roethlisberger's perspective on young QBs (like Mitchell Trubisky) is worth keeping in mind

Why Ben Roethlisberger's perspective on young QBs (like Mitchell Trubisky) is worth keeping in mind

If Mitchell Trubisky takes over as the Bears’ starting quarterback this year and has some success, keep Ben Roethlisberger’s perspective in mind: It’ll take a couple of years before he’s solidly established in the NFL. 

Roethlisberger said even after his rookie year — in which he won all 13 regular season games he started — he still was facing defensive looks he hadn’t seen before in Year 2 and 3 as a pro. So saying someone is and will be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL after a productive first season is, for Roethlisberger, too early. 

“I think it takes a couple years,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s why I’m always slow to send too much praise or anoint the next great quarterback after Year 1. I think people in the media and the 'professionals' in some of these big sports networks are so quick to anoint the next great one or say that they’re going to be great; this, that and the other. Let’s wait and see what happens after two to three years; after defenses understand what you’re bringing; you’re not a surprise anymore. 

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks. In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

The flip side to this would be not panicking if Trubisky struggles when he eventually becomes the Bears’ starting quarterback. For all the success he had during preseason play, most of it came against backup and third string defenses that hadn’t done much gameplanning for him. Defensive coordinators inevitably will scheme to make things more difficult for a rookie quarterback with normal week of planning, and it may take Trubisky a little while to adjust to seeing things he hasn't before. 

“They’re not going to line up in a 4-3 or a 3-4 base defense, they’re going to throw different looks at you, different blitzes to try and confuse you,” Roethlisberger said. “The confusion between the ears part is really one of the biggest keys to it.”

The “it” Roethlisberger referred to there is success as a rookie. The former 11th overall pick was lucky enough to begin his NFL career with a strong ground game headlined by Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, a balanced receiving corps featuring Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randel El and a defense that led the NFL in points allowed (15.7/game). Trubisky, as the Bears’ roster currently stands, won’t be afforded that same level of support. 

Roethlisberger, though, had a chance to meet and work out with Trubisky before the draft (the two quarterbacks share the same agent) and, for what it's worth, came away impressed with 

“I thought he was a tremendous athlete,” Roethlisberger said. “I thought he could throw the ball. I thought when he got out of the pocket and made throws on the run, his improvising. I got to watch some of his college tape. Just really impressed with the athleticism. The ease of throwing the ball; it just looked easy to him when he was on the run, when it wasn’t supposed to be super easy. So I thought that those were the most impressive things that I got to see; obviously not sitting in a meeting room and knowing his smarts or things like that, but just the athleticism.”