Steelers Looking to Stay United During Anthem Protests

Noah Strackbein

PITTSBURGH -- Cameron Heyward holds as high of a standard as anyone in the Steelers locker room. The nine-year veteran and defensive captain is the face of the team but has never allowed that to put his voice above his teammates. 

This season, there is no time more necessary to hear the words and actions of the players in the NFL. As Black Lives Matter protests take over the country, players will be looking to do their part to spread awareness on police brutality and equality throughout the country - even the Steelers. 

"I think we want to stay united in what we do and what we want to accomplish," Heyward said in a conference call with reporters. "Coach T always told me that if we win a Super Bowl, that's not enough for the city of Pittsburgh. We want to leave a lasting change on our community as well."

Heyward said his voice won't be the ones making the decisions, though. His team will be filled with 53 players from unique situations, and everyone needs to make sure they can contribute to; however, they approach the situation.

"The captain's role is to listen and letting guys voice their opinions," he said. "If I'm a captain and I think I have every answer, that's (very) poor by me. We have a lot of different views and guys with different backgrounds.

"All I can speak to is my background and how I've grown up. With the climate we're dealing with now, I think a lot of guys have gotten the opportunity to speak. Whether you're the first man or the last man, you've got an opportunity to speak."

The last time the NFL has players protesting during the National Anthem, they received plenty of mixed reviews that eventually led to the starter, Colin Kaepernick, being pushed out of the league. 

Heyward was part of the team who tried to stay away from the spotlight during the protests by staying off the field one Sunday while the National Anthem was playing. 

Instead, tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, was seen standing in the tunnel with his hand on his heart during the song. 

"The thing that ticks me off about that is what we were trying to do was remain out of the spotlight and it got turned upside down," Heyward said. "To know that we were looked at like we were leaving one of our brothers out, leaving Al out to dry … It was never meant to ostracize a player."

Still, the message the team and the league were trying to get through wasn't the one that was perceived by fans across the country. Kaepernick was made a villain and protesting during the Anthem quickly vanished. 

Something that has since been made very clear by many - including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell - to be a wrong viewpoint of the protest.

"No one really paid attention to the issues Colin Kaepernick was talking about at the time," Heyward said. "They were mostly concerned about what he was doing rather than his message. This time around, you see the evidence and you see what he was talking about.

"It wasn't like he was blowing smoke. These are real issues affecting our community."

This year, many players and coaches are expected to take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. The Steelers have yet to decide how they're going to express themselves to help the cause, but Heyward said it'll be a group decision. One that keeps them united before kickoff. 

"We're living in a climate where guys need to know they have a platform and they should be able to voice their opinion," Heyward said. "It's not for one guy to decide. It's not for two guys to decide. It's a team that has its own interests at heart."

Noah Strackbein is a Senior Writer with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

Comments (2)
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I believe the best way to approach the anthem issue is, respect the military and our country by standing with hand over heart, and with the fist in the air to bring awareness to the racial injustice in our country. I believe it's the best way to avoid controversy.