Steelers' Villanueva: I threw teammates 'under the bus' during national anthem

The image of Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva standing alone at Soldier Field during the national anthem on Sunday has become one of the most talked-about pictures in the country over the past 24 hours. 

As it turns out, the viral image almost never happened because the situation that led to Villanueva standing alone was actually an accident. 

Although Villanueva skipped out meeting with the media after the Steelers' 23-17 loss to the Bears, he did do an interview Monday during which he mentioned several times that it was his fault that the team looked divided during the national anthem. Villanueva said the reason he was on the field by himself is because a Bears employee carrying a flag got in his way.

Before the game, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had said that his team would be in its locker room while the national anthem was sung, so it was a total surprise to see Villanueva out on the field before the game. 

The build-up to this incident began Saturday when the Steelers held a team meeting where they decided that they would stay in the locker room (or the tunnel) so that they could remain unified. At the meeting, Villanueva asked Ben Roethlisberger if he could stand up front with the team captains and Big Ben agreed that the request made sense. When the team headed to the tunnel for the national anthem, Villanueva was in front. 

Villanueva said he got caught in front of a person carrying a Bears flag, and by the time the flag had been moved, the national anthem had started, and at that point, he didn't think it was OK to move, which gave us the image below that shows the offensive lineman without his teammates. 

If the flag person hadn't been there, and the Steelers had been able to stick to their plan, Villanueva would've been standing next to Ben Roethlisberger (7) and Cam Heyward (97) at the front of the Steelers' line in the tunnel. 

In the photo below, that's Villanueva's leg, so you can see how close he was to his teammates. 

After watching the image go viral, Villanueva now feels horrible when he sees the picture of himself standing alone

"Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed," Villanueva said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "This national anthem ordeal has sort of been out of control, and there's a lot of blame on myself. Every single one of my teammates is extremely supportive and extremely patriotic. I can honestly said that."

After the incident, a report came out that Villanueva had gone rogue and avoided his teammates on purpose, which is what it looked like to his fellow teammates. Following the game, linebacker James Harrison was one over several Steelers players who got a little confused about why Villanueva didn't stand with them. 

"We thought we were all in attention with the same agreement, obviously," Harrison told PennLive.com. "But I guess we weren't."

Villanueva said that the whole incident made the Steelers look bad, and for that, he feels horrible. 

"Unfortunately, I threw (my teammates) under the bus, unintentionally," Villanueva said. "I made Coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault."

The Steelers offensive lineman, who happens to be a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, also defended Tomlin's decision to keep his team in the locker room for the national anthem. 

"For anybody who thinks that Coach Tomlin is not as patriotic as you can get in America ... I'm offended by that," Villanueva said. "I will support all my teammates, and all my teammates and all my coaches have always supported me."

Villanueva said that everyone on the Steelers roster was on the same page about the fact that there's racial injustice in America. The one thing they couldn't agree on was what to do about it. The Steelers offensive lineman understands why some players are kneeling for the national anthem, but he would prefer to stand. 

"People taking a knee are not saying anything negative about the military, not saying anything negative about the flag, they are just trying to protest the fact that there are some injustices in America," Villanueva said, via ESPN.com. "And for people to stand for the national anthem, it doesn't mean that they don't believe in those racial injustices. They are just trying to do the right thing. So we, as a team, tried to figure it out, obviously butchered it."

The team was divided enough about whether to stand that Ben Roethlisberger seemed to regret the Steelers' decision to stand in the tunnel. 

"I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team's decision to remain in the tunnel for the national anthem," Roethlisberger said. "The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently."

The Steelers quarterback also added that, like Villanueva, he doesn't believe in the form of protesting that's been taking place across the NFL

"I personally don't believe the anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest," Roethlisberger said. "For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice."

As for Villanueva, one thing he didn't want to talk about Monday were the controversial comments made by Donald Trump over the weekend. 

"I don't have anything to say about the commander in chief and his decisions," Villanueva said. "Nothing to comment about what the president says."

For a recap of everything that's happened since Trump made his controversial comments on Friday, and for a a look at how all teams decided to protest on Sunday, be sure to click here and read this.

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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