Steelers owner Art Rooney II: Team's action was not anthem boycott

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II issued a statement Tuesday to address a "misinterpretation" of his team's actions on Sunday.

The Steelers opted to stay in the Soldier Field tunnel during the national anthem before Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bears, following comments made by President Donald Trump criticizing NFL players who protest during the anthem.

In the statement, addressed to Steelers Nation, Rooney said in part, "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."

Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva chose to stand apart from his teammates during the anthem, in front of the tunnel with his hand over his heart, but Monday he said he unintentionally separated himself in the moments leading up to the anthem. The Steelers were one of three teams who did not come out for the anthem, along with the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks.

As the anthem began at Soldier Field, several Steelers coaches were on the sideline, including coach Mike Tomlin, while the players were not present. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, offensive line coach Mike Munchak and running backs coach James Saxon also were spotted.

Players took the field within a few seconds of the anthem's end.

Rooney on Sunday issued a statement that said, "Our players have stayed unified and have respected the fact that, like our country, there are diverse opinions in our locker room. It is a difficult time in our country. I hope that eventually we will come together as a nation to respect the diverse opinions that exist and work together to make our communities better for all our citizens."

On Tuesday, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan that it was a well-intentioned plan that turned negative due to miscommunication. "I wish we had more time to talk and discuss" how to handle Sunday at Soldier Field, he said.

He added that while he wouldn't comment on what Trump said, "I just want to come together and love each other."

After the Steelers' 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears, Roethlisberger said that the team's decision was a unified one and that he has the "utmost respect" for "our troops and those that serve this country."

On Monday, Roethlisberger said the Steelers would be on the field for the anthem "moving forward."

"What we do while we're out there is yet to be determined," said Roethlisberger, whose Steelers play at the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. "I know I want to be on the field, Cam [Heyward] wants to be on the field, and the guys in that locker room want to be on the field."

Roethlisberger's comments came shortly after he wrote on his website Monday that he wishes the Steelers handled their show of unity during the national anthem differently.

Both Villanueva and Cam Heyward were clear they fully support the military and Sunday was not a boycott, but a stand of unity. Rooney's statement on Tuesday carried the same message.

"Yesterday, I received an email from a Steelers fan who said tell the players to just play football. That is exactly what they wanted to do. They wanted their sole focus to be on playing the game, while also coming together as a unified team.

"The main thing we can do is learn from this and strive to come together remaining unified as a football team."

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.