Antonio Brown

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."

Bears rookie Daniel Braverman sets highest NFL standard for himself

Bears rookie Daniel Braverman sets highest NFL standard for himself

Daniel Braverman has an NFL role model of sorts, and it’s an ambitious one to set as a standard.

The rookie wide receiver was the Bears’ seventh-round pick in this year’s draft, the 230th pick overall. This despite ranking No. 2 in DI with 108 receptions.

Maybe it was his size (5-foot-10). Maybe it was his school pedigree (Western Michigan). Whatever the reason, Braverman knows that Pittsburgh wideout Antonio Brown is 5-foor-10, was a sixth-round pick, played at Central Michigan, has gone to four Pro Bowls and been All-Pro the last three years — and didn’t make a splash in his first year, either.

“Even Antonio Brown, he had only [16] catches his first year,” Braverman noted. “He wasn’t ‘Antonio Brown that first year. But he was just as good the next year (69 catches, 1,108 yards) as he was that first year, just got more opportunities.”

Now Braverman, who was cut and then re-signed to the Bears’ practice squad after preseason, is getting his first opportunity on the big stage. His chance to follow fellow Floridian and fellow MAC standout Brown into becoming a lot more than people ever expected.

The Bears moved Braverman from the practice squad onto the regular roster this week after a dismal game for receivers in the loss to Tennessee, and slot receiver Eddie Royal continuing to be hampered by a toe injury.

And Braverman arrives on the roster with some built-in familiarity with his quarterback, since the two of them have worked this season on the scout team. And familiarity is a starting point in any quarterback-receiver relationship.

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“In and out of breaks he’s really quick getting separation,” said quarterback Matt Barkley. “He’s a little smaller target but I think he plays big. And how he’s able to catch the ball. He’s got solid hands. But I think especially coming from the slot, whether it’s working at nickel or even against some of the base ‘backers that we’ll get this week, he can make guys miss.”

The Bears were done in by misses by receivers against Tennessee, with 10 passes dropped. Braverman established during training camp that he has excellent hands and route-running skills, repeatedly making plays against aggressive coverage.

But when the games came, Braverman disappeared, finishing the preseason with just 6 catches for 40 total yards. “I had to learn about new coverages, coverages I hadn’t seen in college,” Braverman said. “In camp it was more just go ‘ball but in the games it was more strategy, and you have to learn.”

Nothing is assured yet for Braverman, who may be able to bring some special-teams help to the game in case Royal is out. Braverman returned kickoffs and punts at Western Michigan and punts in preseason, but did not flash in the latter opportunities. He has had to work his way back into position for the move to the game-day roster.

“We evaluated our practice squad to bring up a guy and he was the guy we thought most ready,” said coach John Fox, who cited reasons for Braverman’s improvement as, “I think familiarity with what we’re asking him to do. He primarily plays in the slot and basically his mastering of that. We were able to see when he was in practice and when he was in practice squad.”

Motivation won’t be a problem for Braverman, who was a high-school star in Florida but was passed over by the state’s bigger star programs.

“I grew up with a chip on my shoulder I think just from being from South Florida and always having to prove myself on the field,” Braverman said. “So it's just been with me and that's just who I am really as a person.”