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Tomlin: We're not interested in making statements

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin used the majority of his Tuesday session with Pittsburgh media to discuss the fallout over his team's actions during the playing of the national anthem ahead of Sunday's game against the Bears in Chicago.

Tomlin's comments followed a Monday featuring two news conferences during which Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former U.S. Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive lineman Cam Heyward explained Sunday's events and why Villanueva didn't stay with his teammates during the national anthem.

"In regards to the anthem, these are divisive times," Tomlin said. "I've been very proud that our team has always been a team that has always been very respectful of the anthem. We've had 100 percent participation in the anthem since all of these things started. Obviously our guys have opinions regarding social injustice and so forth, but they never used that as a platform. We're a group that's not interested in making statements. We're a group that's interested in making impacts. Things that we feel strongly about, we give up ourselves and our free time particularly. Tuesday is a big day for that. It has been for us and our guys are in the community as we speak. They have been. Things that they're passionate about, they're involved in. I'm sure their communities can attest to that.

"When we step into a stadium to play, we're there for those reasons. It's also another reason why I believe our group has never participated in anthem demonstrations. We have a former serviceman on our team in Villanueva. And regardless of how guys have felt in the past, whether they've had a desire to do it or not, the respect for the anthem, the respect that they have for Al as a brother, has made those demonstrations zero. So it's never been an issue for us."

"Last week some comments were made where that probably would have been breached," Tomlin continued. "There were some guys within our group that felt strongly because of the comments made a week ago. We've always had 100 percent participation, so that created an issue for us. In the past, those that had maybe wanted to participate have not. They felt a little differently, and I thought it created an opportunity for the team to discuss. On Saturday night, I told the team whatever it is that you do, you do it together. One-hundred percent participation, or you do nothing. We do business as usual. We won't let divisive times divide us."

Tomlin added: "Al, obviously, has a unique story. Man, we respect Al. We respect the things that have gone on with him. When they expressed their desire to stand in the tunnel, and not be on the field in an effort to not take part in any of the politics, he said, 'Can I get toward the front so that I can see and protect the anthem?' I said, 'Sure.' Al, logistically, the team is going to be in the tunnel, the captains are going to be in the front because logistically we've got to get out and deal with the toss anyway. Somehow that was perceived as divisive. It's a shame to put Al in that position because, man, he is a team guy. And he's always been a team guy, as are most of our guys, man. We work extremely hard to be united, particularly in things that are aimed at dividing us."

On Monday, Villanueva said he regretted how Sunday's anthem played out.

"The entire team would have been out there with me even the ones that wanted to take a knee would have been out there with me had they known these extreme circumstances that at Soldier Field in the heat of the moment when I've got soldiers, wounded veterans texting me that I have to be out there," he said. "Then I think everything would have been put aside from every single one of my teammates no doubt. So because of that, I've made coach [Mike] Tomlin look bad and that is my fault and my fault only. I've made my teammates look bad and that is my fault and my fault only and I've made the Steelers also look bad and that is my fault and my fault only. So unwilling I've made a mistake and I've talked to my teammates about the situation. Hopefully they understand it."

Roethlisberger released a statement Monday, saying he wished the Steelers "approached it differently."

Tomlin also addressed why he was on the sideline for the anthem apart from his players.

"I didn't even talk to the team about it," he said. "I just suggested to them as I heard the rumblings Saturday night and as they intended to do something that I suggested they be 100 percent in the same way they've been 100 percent prior to last week. I didn't talk to the team in any way about my intentions. My intentions were irrelevant. I just wanted to make sure those guys were undivided in divisive times. I had a job to do -- I got to coach a football team. There was a lot of things going on with me pregame. I don't play politics."

Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a letter to fans Tuesday morning stating, "the intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statement by not taking the field."

The display came days after President Trump stated at a political rally in Alabama that team owners should fire players who fail to stand for the national anthem prior to games.

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