We have no intention to become fixated over the NFL’s new anthem policy. It is what it is, and it will play out as it does. But please bear with us, given that this just happened over the course of the past couple of days. Yesterday was the first opportunity for members of the Pittsburgh Steelers to weigh in on it, so today is my first opportunity to talk about that. presumably this will be our last remarks on it barring a further development, but I feel it’s worthy to publish the team’s perspective as told by the players themselves.
And while we didn’t hear from many players, we did see a bit of a variety. Third-year cornerback Artie Burns appeared to be the most vocal. He fears that the league weighing in on the debate is catering to “another topic to get everybody against each other” and has concerns about the policy that basically strongly suggests players perform any protests indoors.
“It makes you look bad”, Burns said of the portion of the policy that allows for players to remain off the field during the anthem if they do not wish to stand. “The whole team is out there and you come jogging out”, and the crowd reacts negatively to that player for protesting. “Who wants to go through that?”, he asked. “That’s humiliating to us as a person”.
When the President first weighed in on the anthem matter back in September and the Steelers voted as a team to remain in the locker room the following week, that was a decision made in part because they couldn’t agree on a universal on-field decision. Some players wanted to kneel, and from my understanding Burns was one of them.
“We are trying to stand for something, but you single us out in front of everybody? You talk about bullying, that’s bullying”, he offered. But he did say “I’m going to be out there standing up. That’s their issue, not my issue”.
As for the man who became the face of the NFL debate—or, the other face—Alejandro Villanueva’s reaction yesterday was strong and clear: no comment. He declined to speak to reporters, citing his desire to not provide them with “clickbait” material. He’s had his fill of this conversation over the past half a year.
But when it comes to the leaders on the team, they appear to be producing one message: the Steelers are not going to rock the boat. This was the sentiment expressed by veteran offensive lineman Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey.
“We’ll be one of those teams that make it a non-issue”, Foster told reporters. He added to that yesterday, saying, “We’ll handle it like pros. Other teams, we’ll see what happens. Our thing is, just minimize the issue. We’re there to play a game”.
The Steelers certainly gained plenty of experience trying to minimize off-field issues last season, though the one that truly appeared to affect them was the scramble over figuring out how to respond to the President’s comments back in September, which players after the loss in Chicago cited as a reason, though not excuse, for their collective lack of focus.