Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin also spoke about Villanueva after the team's 23-17 overtime loss, saying he was looking for "100 percent participation" in whatever method of protest the players decided upon.
The Pittsburgh Steelers participated in response to the comments made by President Trump, not as a political statement, but to avoid putting players in tough spots. "We're not participating in the anthem today - not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance".
Many others locked arms in a show of unity - all brought on by comments over the weekend by President Donald Trump criticizing National Football League players, saying that the ones who kneel should be fired.
Then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting, then kneeling during the national anthem during the 2016 preseason, explaining he was protesting racial inequality and police brutality in the United States.
Villanueva spent time at Fort Drum while he was part of the 10th Mountain Division. Major League Baseball has no uniform protocol for the national anthem and leaves it up to the clubs to set policy.
As the "Star-Spangled Banner" played at Soldier Field in Chicago for the noon game between the Chicago Bears and the Steelers, the Pittsburgh team's sideline was virtually empty.
"I agree that America is not flawless", he said, in response to last year's bended-knee antics by Kaepernick. "I think as a big picture, we're discussing different things". In the wake of his coming out alone and away from his team, Villanueva has become a popular figure and his jersey sales skyrocketed. "We're not politicians, we're coaches and professional athletes".
Villanueva, a retired Army Ranger and veteran of combat in Afghanistan, said he received numerous texts from other veterans before the game imploring him to salute the anthem. Roethlisberger estimates players were about 20 feet behind Villanueva.
"He said that the captains would be out there right behind me, and this plan morphed to accommodate this sort of tough, moral dilemma that I had in my hands", Villanueva said.