The Pittsburgh Steelers voted as a team to remain in the locker room for the national anthem ahead of last Sunday's 23-17 defeat to the Chicago Bears, and that decision may have created friction among the players.
ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler spoke to multiple sources who said the "tension was palpable" inside the locker room Monday after the game.
PennLive.com's Jacob Klinger reported the Steelers players considered three options for what to do during the anthem: They could collectively hold hands, allow players to stand or kneel depending on their preference, or stay off the field altogether.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and offensive tackle Chris Hubbard told Klinger the third choice won by a narrow majority.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger posted a statement to his website (via ESPN.com's Darren Rovell) expressing regret with how the team handled the situation:
Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan with the United States Army Rangers, was the only player to stand outside the tunnel. He later explained to reporters he walked outside the tunnel and gestured for his teammates to join him but that they were "essentially unable to exit."
Villanueva told reporters he had only discussed his plan with "the team leadership" and that others on the team were unaware of that discussion.
"So unwillingly, I made a mistake," he said. "I talked to my teammates about the situation, hopefully they understand it. If they don't, I still have to live with it, because the nature of this debate is causing a lot of very heated reaction from fans from players, and it's undeserving to all of the players and coaches from this organization."