In what would be the first team-wide response to tweets by President Trump calling for NFL owners to fire or suspend players who protest the national anthem, the Pittsburgh Steelers will not take the field for their game against the Chicago Bears, according to Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
Instead, Tomlin told CBS’s Jamie Erdahl, the team will remain in its Soldier Field locker room. Tomlin emphasized the decision was based on removing the pressure from players feeling they needed to decide whether to protest or not.
“We’re chasing something special here in 2017 and we’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said. “We’re football players. We’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t have to be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to. So we’re not participating today. That’s our decision. We’re going to be 100 percent. We came here to play a football game. That’s our intent.”
One member of the Steelers, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, served three tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Under the league rule, the failure to be on the field for the anthem may result in discipline such as a fine, suspension or loss of a draft pick. But a league official said the key phrase is “may” result, adding he won’t speculate on whether the Steelers would be disciplined.
The specific rule pertaining to the national anthem is found on pages A62-63 of the league’s game operations manual, according to a league source. It states:
“The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.
“During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
Staff writer Mark Maske contributed to this report.