A youth flag football team in Staten Island, N.Y., decided to change its name from the Steelers to protest the decision by the NFL team of the same name to remain in the tunnel for the national anthem Sunday.
“[We] were completely disgusted by that act and we talked to our kids and they no longer want to play as the ‘Steelers’ because they’ve disrespected the national anthem, as well as the men and women who fought to protect this country,” one of the team’s coaches, Lou Gelormino, told the Staten Island Advance on Tuesday.
Gelormino, whose team plays in the 9-11 Memorial Flag League, said the parents of the seventh- and eighth-grade players showed similar outrage over the NFL team’s protest but noted they still “respect everyone’s right to protest” as long as it’s done “in an appropriate way.”
“And now we ask that everyone respect our right to protest also,” Gelormino added.
The youth team had not chosen a replacement as of Tuesday but said it would likely opt to be named after West Point, home of the U.S. Military Academy.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of three NFL teams that chose not to take the field Sunday for the national anthem. The Steelers’ intent was to avoid becoming enmeshed in the protests that swept the league last weekend in response to vulgar comments made by President Trump calling on NFL owners to fire players who chose to kneel during the anthem to call attention to racial injustice in the United States.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!’ ” Trump said at an Alabama rally Friday. Trump followed up his comments with numerous tweets expressing similar thoughts that continued through the weekend and into Tuesday morning.
The incendiary comments were met with almost universal pushback from around the NFL, with most teams defending their players’ rights to protest during the anthem as long as the protests remained peaceful.
While some players knelt, sat on the bench or linked arms during the anthem, a handful of teams, including the Steelers, decided to remain in the tunnel. Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin said the team remained inside to avoid having his players appear at odds over differing approaches to the protest.
“People shouldn’t have to choose,” Tomlin said. “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.”
One player, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, whom the Staten Island youth flag football team lauded Tuesday, stood outside the tunnel with his hand over his heart during the anthem but later expressed regret for not standing united with his team.
“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” Villanueva said at a news conference. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed regrets of his own, wishing the team had come out for the anthem to “stand united.”
It’s likely the protests will continue as long as Trump continues tweeting about the subject. On Tuesday, his critiques continued, as he focused on the Dallas Cowboys, who along with owner Jerry Jones knelt in unison before the anthem on Monday night but stood for the song.
Trump’s anger over national anthem protests began in August 2016, just after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first player to kneel to protest racial injustice in the United States. While Kaepernick no longer plays in the NFL, his actions inspired a handful of others to kneel, as well, and the movement was growing this season.
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