Pittsburgh star Alejandro Villanueva has sensationally apologised to his teammates for going rogue during the team's highly-publicised national anthem protest on Monday morning (AEDT).

The entire Steelers active playing roster - except for Villanueva - remained in the tunnel underneath Soldier Field in Chicago as the American national anthem was played before their game against the Bears, in a display designed to show a unified front within the Steelers organisation.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin has said his team's decision to remain in the tunnel was a deliberate strategy to show unity as anthem protests spread across the NFL promoting awareness of racial inequality in the United States.

It also followed US President Donald Trump's outspoken declaration that any protesting player should be sacked by their NFL team.


In response more than 200 NFL players made some form of protest during the national anthem during week three of the season.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he's fired,'" Trump said.

Villanueva's appearance as the sole Steelers player who walked onto the field and stood for the Star Spangled Banner as his teammates remained near their locker room on Monday morning (AEDT), has seen him become a household name overnight.

The only issue is, he never meant to make a statement - and he never meant to throw his teammates "under a bus".
The 29-year-old has now spoken out to distance himself from reports which have portrayed him as an NFL posterboy for those that believe the American national anthem should be out of bounds for all acts of protest.

The offensive tackle has said the whole thing is a misunderstanding.

Speaking the day after the Steelers 17-23 loss to the Bears, Villanueva revealed he simply got muddled up in the chaotic scenes that struck as players tried to squeeze into the stadium tunnel as pre-game entertainment event staff were also walking in and out of the tunnel.

"Unfortunately, I threw them under the bus," Villanueva said.

"Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed.

"We butchered our plan."

Villanueva, a former US Army captain who was deployed in Afghanistan, said he spoke to team quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the night before the game where it was agreed the team's captains would not stay in the locker room as previously planned during the anthem, but would instead stand at the front of the tunnel with all the team's captains standing at the front.

The plan fell apart when the Steelers players reached the mouth of the tunnel - and suddenly Villanueva found himself standing alone on the field while his teammates remained in the locker room.

Roethlisberger said he and other team captains were held up by the Bears event day staff clogging up the tunnel and that the team does not have any grudge against Villanueva.

Despite this, Villanueva used his Tuesday morning (AEDT) press conference to apologise to his teammates several times.

"I made coach Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only," he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only.

"When everybody sees an image of me standing by myself, everybody thinks that the team and Steelers are not behind me, and that's absolutely wrong. It's quite the opposite. Actually, the entire team would've been out there with me, even the ones that wanted to take a knee."

The truth behind his unintentional solo stand, didn't stop his Pittsburgh jumper becoming the most popular NFL jersey sold through the NFL network.

The misunderstanding has taken on a life of its own.

It's one of the reasons the Steelers have declared they won't stay in the locker room for the anthem when they play the Ravens in Baltimore on Monday morning (AEDT).

The Steelers' goal of appearing unified Sunday in the face of racial and political division has slowly been coming apart at the seams, The New York Post reports.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed his regret for his team's decision to stand in the tunnel while the national anthem played before their 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears.

"I was unable to sleep last night and want to share my thoughts and feelings on our team's decision to remain in the tunnel for the National Anthem yesterday," the 35-year-old Roethlisberger wrote on his personal website Monday.

"The idea was to be unified as a team when so much attention is paid to things dividing our country, but I wish we approached it differently. We did not want to appear divided on the sideline with some standing and some kneeling or sitting.

"As a team, it was not a protest of the flag or the Anthem. I personally don't believe the Anthem is ever the time to make any type of protest. For me, and many others on my team and around the league, it is a tribute to those who commit to serve and protect our country, current and past, especially the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice."

Roethlisberger ended his written reflection with a wish for his team to show "solidarity" by standing for the anthem, a sentiment he confirmed during a press conference at the Steelers practice facilities on Monday afternoon.

"Moving forward, we will be on the field," Roethlisberger said, acting as the spokesperson for the team after he said they met to discuss their future plans that morning.

"What we do when we're out there has yet to be determined. Luckily it's not the night before a game, at 10:30 at night, when we have to make a decision.

"I know I want to be on the field, [defensive end Cam Heyward] wants to be on the field and the guys in that locker room want to be on the field. So we will plan to be on the field this week in Baltimore."

The Steelers have commented at length on their decision to remain off the field on a day that saw teams throughout the NFL make political statements in the wake of President Donald Trump's controversial remarks on anthem protests. Since the team could not reach a compromise on standing or kneeling, Roethlisberger and others had explained, they went with the hide-from-view option.