While every NFL game Sunday featured protests during the national anthem, the Titans were among three teams that chose to stay away from the sideline altogether. On Monday, the wife of Tennessee wide receiver Eric Decker claimed her husband was unaware that his team was planning such a demonstration.
“My husband was not made aware it was time to go out for the game. Unfortunately a decision was made for him without him knowing,” Jessie James Decker said, according to TMZ Sports. Her comments were also captured in an image by a Twitter user and appeared to have been made in response to criticism of the 30-year-old player.
Before the game Sunday between the Titans and the visiting Seahawks, all players from both sides stayed in the locker room as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed. The teams made a joint decision to take that approach, with the Titans’ Delanie Walker telling The Tennessean that his squad “had a group text message” exchange with Seattle players.
“The head coaches got involved and we came up with a solution that would be perfect for everybody, and that was staying in the locker room,” Walker said. Approximately 25 minutes before kickoff, the Seahawks tweeted a statement declaring their players’ intention to “not participate in the national anthem.”
“As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today,” the Titans said in a statement posted around 15 minutes before kickoff. “The players jointly decided this was the best course of action. Our commitment to the military and our community is resolute, and the absence of our team for the national anthem shouldn’t be misconstrued as unpatriotic.”
In his postgame remarks, Titans Coach Mike Mularkey said, “We made a statement about it; the teams had talked. We’re unified as a team.”
After being informed Monday of Decker’s comments about her husband, Mularkey said it had been his understanding that all of his players were in agreement on the anthem protest.
“One of my favorite things to do is sing the national anthem,” Decker, a country-pop music artist, said in a lengthy Instagram post Monday. She added, “I love our country so much. And we should all love and respect each other because this is the greatest country in the world.”
The other team that declined to take the field during the anthem Sunday was the Pittsburgh Steelers. One of their players, offensive lineman and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva, was visible at the front of the tunnel leading to the field, and he received praise from some observers who thought he was declining to participate in his team’s protest.
Villanueva explained Monday that he did not mean to wind up where he did and appear to be standing alone, saying, “Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally.” However, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he wished his team had “approached it differently,” and he hoped his squad would “stand united” on the sideline before future games.