Art Rooney II, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, told fans on Tuesday that his team both respected military service members and didn’t intend to make a political statement when its players stood off the field during the national anthem on Sunday:
NEW: Steelers president releases letter saying team’s decision not to take field during anthem meant to avoid making a political statement. pic.twitter.com/U5vwKBeQTX
— ABC News (@ABC) September 26, 2017
“The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field. Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem — which was never our players’ intention,” Rooney said in a statement.
Rooney took part of his statement to respond to a disgruntled fan who wanted football players to stick to playing football rather than making political statements. “That is exactly what they wanted to do,” Rooney said. “They wanted their sole focus to be on playing the game, while also coming together as a unified team.”
His comments came amid a broader national debate over whether NFL players should kneel during the national anthem.
President Donald Trump spotlighted the issue during a rally on Friday when he used the term “son of a b***h” to describe players who knelt. While speaking at a rally in Alabama, Trump decried NFL protesters’ disrespect for the flag and openly hoped for an NFL owner to fire a protesting player.