Steelers' team captains Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward spoke on Monday afternoon, addressing the decision by the players to remain in the tunnel during the National Anthem on Sunday prior to the game against the Bears.
Ben Roethlisberger Opening Statement:
Good afternoon everyone. Obviously I wanted to come here to answer some questions and whatever that you guys had, to make a statement and comment on the goings on this weekend before the game. We had a players-only meeting on Saturday night that was late, but we felt necessary. The biggest thing that we wanted to come out of that meeting was to be unified, whatever it was on the sideline for the anthem, to be unified. We had some people felt that they wanted to kneel, some people that wanted to stand, some people that wanted to sit. But we said, 'What we can we do to stay together?' And we felt that the best thing that everyone was on board with was standing in the tunnel during the anthem. I want to make it very clear that we support our troops, we support the people that defend this country, that have lost their lives, that are still currently supporting this country. This is in no way, shape or form a protest of the national anthem. It was a way for us to stay unified over the division of things that are going on in this countr
y. I want everyone to know that I support our military, our first responders, our police, all of that stuff and in no way were we protesting the anthem and what that stands for. I want that to be very clear as I stand up here. It was about us being united as the Pittsburgh Steelers and being in that tunnel together standing as one group.
Cameron Heyward Opening Statement:
First of all, I just want to say that it's a great opportunity to be part of an organization that allows us to talk and communicate as people, as teammates. Ben [Roethlisberger] explained how we went about it. We weren't concerned about boycotting. We were concerned about staying together, unifying as one. Through it all, even though it may be perceived as one way, as Ben said, we care about our military, we care about our troops. We have people directly from that [who are] people we care about a lot. We don't want anybody to think that we don't care about this country and we don't care about the people that have sacrificed for this great country. All we're concerned about now is, besides getting ready for Baltimore, is having a better society, making our society better, working in our community to get better, and I think we just want to move forward. We don't have a lot to say, but we want to stand together.
Cam, the President this morning said that the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. What is your reaction to that?CH:
Honestly, I'm not concerned with that right now. I'm concerned with my group of guys. Whether they're black, they're white, Mexican, Asian – it doesn't matter what you are. On that field, when we're together, we pay tribute where we come from, our military. Even though we didn't want to boycott and we wanted to stay out of the politics, we still pay tribute to our great country. That's the decision he made.
Ben, you said you weren't able to sleep last night. What caused that and what gave the perception that it was handled wrong yesterday?
BR:I've played this game a lot of time, been through a lot of wins and losses. I think for me, my support of the troops, I think it's very clear. I think people that know me know especially what my foundation does, all of our support of the troops. And I felt like I wish that we would have been on the field. That's just my personal feeling on it, I'm entitled to that opinion. That's what's great about this country and what the troop are for. I wish we could have stood out there, but what was important was being united as well and that's what we showed. We showed unity because that's what we need in this country right now. There's so much division. We need to stay together, and so all in all that's what we stood for.
Ben, with Al (Villanueva) apart it appeared you didn't have unity.BR:The crazy thing about that is when we came out of the tunnel, we told Al to come stand up front with the captains, Cam [Heyward], myself and Tyler [Matakevich] who's the special teams captain. And when we came out of the tunnel it was a very small area, or when we came out of the locker room and into the tunnel it was a very small area. There was a flag or something coming off the field so there were a bunch of Bears fans coming off the field holding that and going in front of us. So, it kind of held us up. Al was down at the end of the tunnel where we had told him we're going to come to the end of the tunnel. We're going to go to the tunnel to stand together. By the time all of chaos happened in front of us, as we started taking our steps the anthem started. So, we stopped to show respect for the anthem. I was talking to Cam, I regret not going down to Al, but Al didn't know that we weren't there. Al thought we were standing with him so there was no division there. We were 20-feet behind him. You can see in the pictures, we're standing there. I think it was more, I told Cam when the anthem started we just out of habit you stop, you take your hat off, you wait. I wish today that we probably would've continued down. I know there would have been a lot of chaos and commotion because the guys behind us wouldn't have known what was going on. But there was no division there. It's just the way it appeared through pictures and camera stuff.
Ben, what are your plans for next week in Baltimore?BR:We have had a team meeting this morning already, obviously, to discuss the game and what we want do to. Moving forward we will be on the field. What we do when we're out there has yet to be determined. Luckily, it's not the night before a game at 10:30 p.m. at night when we have to make a decision. I know I want to be on the field, Cam wants to be on the field and the guys in that locker room want to be on the field. So, we will plan to be on the field this week in Baltimore.
Ben, were you surprised a couple of your coaches were on the field?BR: When we leave that locker room the last thing we do is we say a team prayer. Then the coaches go do what they do and all the players stay. The players stand and Will Gay kind of does a little rah-rah thing to get us going. We don't really know where the coaches go. They leave the locker room, they go on the field. All we can concern with ourselves is what we do. When we left the locker room after we broke it down, Steelers whatever it was, we go into the hallway to go into the tunnel. We never know where the coaches are. I know at home games they go out a different door than we do. So, I was aware later that some of the coaches were on the field but I don't think all of them were. I don't think all of them were, I don't think even all of the training staff was. I think it was just, we can only concern ourselves with where we were and what we were doing at the moment.
Cam, were you guys caught all guard as a team to the reactions of people burning jerseys and stuff like that?CH: Yeah, because we care so much about our community. We care so much about our troops, our military. To have a brother like Alejandro Villanueva and almost try to divide us, that's something that we're not about. We care about each other, I care about Ben, he cares about Al. Our whole team cares about Al, we care about our coaches, our staff, and we never want to single one person out. We never want to leave one man behind. I know it looked like that in that picture and we wanted to make sure we reached out to Al personally. We never wanted to look like we didn't have his back.
Cam, it was said during the Sunday Night broadcast that this is the most unified the league has been since we came out of 9/11 with the owners and the players on the same side. Was that important for the owners and the league to be behind the players like they were as you went into Sunday?CH:
With that, each team made their own decision. Each team talked amongst their players and decided. I thought the owners did a great job of handling it. And we move on from here. At the end of the day, it was just one day. It's about what you do from here on out. That's how we're going to be judged and we look forward to getting back in our communities because that's how society gets better.
Cam, what was the dialogue with Villanueva and how did that process go?CH: Reaching out to Al, I thought he was shocked by the picture. I'm not going to sit up here and put words in his mouth, but he did tell me that. He never wants to feel like he's an outsider or the center of attention. I think he'll speak more on it later at a different time. I'm not going to put him at the podium now. But at the end of the day, we all just want to stay together.
Cam, was Al with the team today? *
Cam, the take a knee movement started over racial injustice and police brutality. Now people are trying to make it about the troops and nationalism. Does that bother you? CH:
I don't want people to see that we don't care about our country. I don't want people to think that the Steelers or athletes in our organization don't care about what is going on in our world. We care about our military, we care about our troops, we care about everybody who has sacrificed for this world. Of course, it's disheartening to see that the next day, but all we can do is move forward.