Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva stood alone during the national anthem while the rest of the team stayed in the tunnel before Sunday's game in Chicago—but he says it was an "embarrassing" mix-up, not a personal stand against NFL protests. Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, says he had agreed to stand with other players at the front of the tunnel, but he ended up alone 20 feet ahead of his teammates due to miscommunication and what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says was "chaos" caused by congestion in the tunnel area, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Villanueva says it was his fault the plan was "butchered" and he's sorry for making his teammates and coach Mike Tomlin look bad, People reports. "Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally," he says. "Every single time I see that picture of me, standing by myself, I feel embarrassed." The player, whose jersey became a top seller Monday, says despite appearances, the team is united—and he isn't offended by players choosing to take a knee during the anthem. "I don't think veterans at the end of the day take any offense," he says. "They actually signed up and fought so that somebody could take a knee and protest peacefully whatever it is that their hearts desire."