September 24, 2017

AP Initially Ignores Steelers Player, Former Army Ranger, Who Came Out of the Locker Room During the Anthem (SEE UPDATE)

UPDATE: It turns out that the AP, and much of the rest of the media, also erred in claiming that almost all Steelers players “stayed in the locker room” See the photo at the end of this post.

The Associated Press is virtually celebrating how, in reaction to “President Donald Trump’s criticism of players who protest during the national anthem,” there was “a mass increase in such activism Sunday, with more than 100 NFL players sitting or kneeling, others raising their fists and whole teams standing with locked arms to display unity.” The AP also reported that “One team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, stayed in the locker room during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’” That’s just plain false, and the wire service more than likely knows it.

In the writeup’s context, the AP’s report gave readers the impression that the Steelers were expressing a form of solidarity with protesting players. That’s wrong.

In addition to failing to explain why the Steelers predominantly stayed off the field, the wire service’s report filed at roughly 2:30 p.m. ET failed to mention that several Steelers coaches were on the field (in the video seen later, they are seen acting respectfully during the national anthem), and that one Steelers player left the tunnel during the anthem, put his hand over his heart, and sang.

The AP’s Arnie Stapleton wrote (full article as it appeared at about 2:30 ET has since been revised; the article as it appeared before revision is saved here for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes; bolds are mine):

President’s Criticisms Incite More Protests at NFL Games

Last week across the entire NFL, only four players knelt or sat, and two stood with their fists raised. In the nine early games Sunday, AP reporters counted 102 players kneeling or sitting, and at least three raising their fists.

Two teams didn’t let the fact that they were guests in a foreign country get in the way of childishness disguised as “activism”:

The reactions reverberated across the Atlantic, where about two dozen players, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs and Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before the start of the teams’ game at Wembley Stadium in London.

Other players on both teams and Jaguars owner Shad Khan remained locked arm-in-arm throughout the playing of the national anthem and “God Save The Queen.” No players were kneeling during the British anthem.

As to the Steelers, Stapleton’s and the AP’s apparent obsession with detail stopped at the locker room door, and he simply wanted to readers to assume that the Steelers staying in their locker room was an expresso of solidarity with players on other teams taking a knee:

On Sunday, NFL owners continued issuing statements condemning the president’s divisive words and players took part in displays of unity across the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers decided to stay in their locker room for the national anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears.

Sorry, Arnie. That’s not the team’s position, according to coach Mike Tomlin, as reported at USA Today:

The Pittsburgh Steelers — mostly — opted not to participate in the national anthem prior to Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

… Several Steelers coaches, including head coach Mike Tomlin, stood on the Pittsburgh sideline at attention during the anthem while the Bears stood arm in arm on their side of the field.

Tomlin told CBS Sports’ Jamie Erdahl prior to kickoff that his team wouldn’t be taking the field for the anthem.

After President Trump repeatedly spoke out in the last three days on players’ protests, Tomlin said he didn’t want players to feel like they had to take a side in a public display.

Note the reference to Tomlin speaking “before the kickoff.” Arnie Stapleton should have known this, and is vulnerable to the charge that he knew this, and didn’t report it.

At 11:27 p.m., NBC further quoted Tomlin:

“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 this 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.”

I saved one paragraph from USA Today’s coverage until now, because one Steelers player appeared to defy Tomlin’s “100 percent” assertion and “risk being separated from his teammates” by taking field for the national anthem (though to be fair in the circumstances, Tomlin might have — and should have — granted this player an exemption):

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger and graduate of West Point, visibly stood outside the tunnel at Soldier Field with his hand over his heart during The Star-Spangled Banner while his teammates remained under cover inside the stadium.

Sports Illustrated further reports that Villanueva “was an Army Ranger and served in Afghanistan.” His Wikipedia entry indicates that he served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and that “he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.”

At several points in the video below, Villanueva is seen just outside the Steelers’ tunnel with his hand over his heart singing the words of the national anthem:

Going against the grain in heroic fashion, even if it ends up in this case having been with the coach’s permission, is news. Arnie Stapleton at the Associated Press disgracefully ignored what Villanueva did — until it became obvious (note all the photographers who were around the Steelers player at the end of the video) that they couldn’t.

In my view, Stapleton and the AP have abused their gatekeeping perch in the media food chain to delay reporting on Villanueva’s actions, which they finally acknowledged at roughly 3:30 p.m. But Stapleton and AP still haven’t acknowledged that several Steelers coaches were on the field.


UPDATE: CBS, by using closeups of Villanueva, avoided showing what was going on behind him. I don’t think there was any underhanded intent to this, as camerapeople tend to favor closeups. One can only see hints at the very end of the video that there are other people in the tunnel, and no indications that I could see of the presence of other players.

But, unless the photo below has been manipulated, which I tend to doubt, the truth is that other Steelers players and officials were at the edge of the tunnel at Soldiers Field, some with their hands over their hearts, some not:


“At the edge of the tunnel” is not “staying in the locker room.”

The photo above was found in a response to ABC’s bogus 2:43 p.m. tweet (which still claims everyone stayed in the locker room).

Only partially confirming the accuracy of the photo above, enlarging this separate photo from Getty Images appears to show Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the background, i.e., not in the locker room.

It’s impossible to know whether the group at the end of the tunnel, if the photo is indeed authentic, represents the entire team or just a portion of it. But the fact remains that the surviving claim made by AP, ABC, and other media outlets that the Steelers other than Villanueva and the four coaches mentioned in the body of this post all “stayed in the locker room” during the anthem appears to be demonstrably false.

Cross-posted at



  1. I disagree. I think what Tomlin did, whether he admits it or not, was a show of “solidarity” with the protesting players. If you don’t want to play “politics” (it’s sickening that the act of respecting your flag and anthem is now deemed a f-ing political stance) you go out there and tell your players to stand. By hiding in the locker room or tunnel you feed the narrative that there is validity to the idea of protesting the flag.

    And then there is this:

    Comment by zf — September 25, 2017 @ 10:48 am

  2. Sadly, zf, you are right abut Tomlin, based on his post-game comments. My respect for Villanueva has increased. My respect for Tomlin, which had been pretty low before all of this based on his on-field conduct, demeanor and occasional statements, has disappeared. My interest in the NFL has virtually evaporated.

    Comment by Tom — September 25, 2017 @ 2:26 pm

  3. #2, The encroachment and embrace of left wing ideology is just destroying everything: schools (particularly college), entertainment, our companies, our cities, our medical care, respect for the law and each other and now sports.

    Comment by zf — September 26, 2017 @ 11:28 am

  4. This story went into the dumper so fast I decided I couldn’t write about it after further developments. I think the bottom line is that the Steelers got intense fan blowback (so Big Ben did a mea culpa), but the Steelers coach also expressed disappointment with Villanueva. It’s such a hot mess I barely want to think about it, and I surely don’t want to write about it any more.

    Comment by Tom — September 26, 2017 @ 4:42 pm

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