September 25, 2017

AP Appears to Take Steelers’ Side Over Player Who Left Tunnel for the Anthem

In a NewsBusters post yesterday, I noted how the Associated Press, ABC, and likely several other major outlets initially ignored Alejandro Villanueva’s appearance outside the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room at Soldier Field in Chicago for the national anthem. I originally thought that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t have objected to what Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, did. Boy, was that wrong. Naturally, the press is trying pretty hard to defend and cover for the Steelers, despite how this controversy makes Tomlin and the Steelers look absolutely awful and Villanueva even more heroic.

The opening paragraphs in Jay Cohen’s coverage at the Associated Press failed to directly acknowledge, as seen during the video contained in yesterday’s post, that several Steelers coaches were on the sidelines during the anthem:

Steelers lose 23-17 to Bears after anthem protest

When the national anthem started at Soldier Field, the visiting sideline was mostly empty. The most prominent evidence of the Pittsburgh Steelers was offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva standing by himself near the tunnel, holding his right hand over his heart. (and singing the national anthem — Ed.)

It was one strange day for one of the NFL’s most revered franchises.

The Steelers stayed off the sideline during the anthem in protest of President Donald Trump’s recent criticism of NFL players, and then made a couple of big mistakes in a surprising 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday. A muffed punt and blocked field goal set up 10 points for Chicago, and Pittsburgh allowed a whopping 220 yards rushing.

In later paragraphs, the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempted to explain his team’s “logic”:

“Some guys wanted to take a knee, guys wanted to stand,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We said whatever we do we need to make sure we’re unified as one group because that’s what we’re about and that’s what this should be about is staying together as one unit and one group and one brotherhood, things like that.

“So rather than have some guys kneel and some guys stand, the conclusion was made kind of by everybody that the best thing to do was just to stay in the locker room or in the tunnel if you will.”

But Villanueva, an Army veteran, stood outside for the anthem, holding his helmet by his side. Roethlisberger and several other players said they had no issue with Villanueva — “As a team we’re behind him 100 percent,” cornerback Joe Haden said — but Tomlin said he was hoping for 100 percent participation, while acknowledging the protest was not his decision.

How interesting.

Yesterday, before game time, as seen in yesterday’s post, Tomlin said, in quotes:

“… we’re not participating today. That’s our decision. We’re going to be 100 percent.”

That’s not a “hope.” From Tomlin’s position of authority, that’s a demand, and he shouldn’t get to water down what he said before the game after the fact. Of course, the AP didn’t challenge him on this. Fox News’s perspective is different, and arguably more accurate: “NFL national anthem flap sees Steelers coach Mike Tomlin rap Alejandro Villanueva …”

As to Villanueva, this is a player who, as described in yesterday’s post, is far more than the “Army veteran” the AP’s Cohen barely conceded.

Calling Villanueva an “Army veteran” is like calling the late Ella Fitzgerald a “singer.” As an Army Ranger, he “served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and … was awarded a Bronze Star Medal … for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.’”

I thought that someone in Tomlin’s position couldn’t possibly be so naive as to believe that he and his players could force such a man to choose childish “solidarity” with his team over honoring the country he has served so nobly — especially given Villanueva’s initial public reaction to then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s anthem antics a year ago.

As such, I thought that Tomlin “might” have given Villanueva a pass to do what he did. I was wrong, and I clearly vastly overestimated the content of Mike Tomlin’s character.

Obviously, the rest of the Steelers don’t deserve to be off the hook either:

Tomlin called Commissioner Roger Goodell on Sunday morning and told him of the team’s decision.

Roethlisberger said no disrespect was intended for the troops and other people who serve the country, and Steelers President Art Rooney II praised his players for staying unified.

“I hope that eventually we will come together as a nation to respect the diverse opinions that exist and work together to make our communities better for all our citizens,” Rooney said in a statement.

Sorry, Big Ben. It is now clear that your non-presence was a form of disrespect, especially given that this affront took place on Gold Star Mothers Day, something to which the knee-jerk, Trump-despising brats in the NFL clearly gave no consideration. (Even after conducting a Sherlock Holmes-level investigation, I doubt that anyone will be able to find more than a very few references to how special yesterday should have been to mothers who have lost sons and daughters who have served their country in the military, and especially how yesterday’s NFL histrionics tarnished their day. I sure couldn’t.)

Further, the reference in Rooney’s official statement to “how our players stayed unified,” without specifically mentioning Villanueva’s actions, could be taken as an indirect criticism of what the offensive tackle did.

ESPN is reporting that many Steelers players were “surprised” at Villanueva’s move, with a bit of an undercurrent that the man somehow tricked his teammates into believing he was with them. I doubt it; consider the source.

Here is the video of yesterday’s anthem in Chicago, for those who could use a Monday pick-me-up after such a disappointing weekend:

Another pick-me-up: Sales of Villanueva’s official NFL jersey have skyrocketed to the point where it is currently “the NFL’s top-selling jersey.”

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