‘Unified’ Bears link arms for anthem, while Steelers stay out of view

The Bears walked into their locker room Sunday not knowing what they would do in the wake of President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners respond to a protesting player by getting that “son of a bitch off the field.”

Whatever they did, it would be together.

Chairman George McCaskey and coach John Fox addressed the team Saturday night, telling players they supported whatever they wanted to do — as long as it showed team unity. Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Sam Acho, among others, -suggested Sunday morning they link arms.

They did, while every Steelers player but one — offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a veteran who served in the Army, stood alone with his hand over his heart — stayed out of view during the -anthem. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he told his players he supported whatever protest received 100 percent participation. When they couldn’t come to a consensus, players decided to stay in the tunnel.

The Bears link arms during the National Anthem before they face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Soldier Field, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“The comments that were made about NFL players and the ownership, it was an attempt to divide us — that’s what it really felt like — and to tell us that we don’t have the freedom to speak and to stand on whatever platform we feel like and voice our opinions,” Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “We have great respect for our country, great respect for our flag, great respect for the anthem.

“We also want to show that we’re unified. And that was the best way to show that we hold all those things dear, and we are American citizens.”

McCaskey told players he wouldn’t recommend a protest, Trevathan said, but encouraged them to act united. McCaskey issued a statement before the game claiming team unity, but declined further comment.

Hicks said McCaskey and Fox declared “no divisive rhetoric will stop us from being who we are — together.”  The Bears were unsure if they’d link arms in their next game.

Players weren’t discouraged from kneeling, Prince Amukamara said. He said the meaning was similar — “If you’re linking, if you’re kneeling, you’re protesting, you’re both standing for something,” he said — though kneeling has received more backlash since Colin Kaepernick first did it. Amukamara dismissed a Trump tweet, posted during the game, that said, “standing with locked arms is good.”

Amukamara said he was “of course, irate,” after Trump’s -initial comments, while left tackle Charles Leno bemoaned a “sad” state of affairs.

“Sports, food, music … those things bring people together,” Leno said. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to isolate people or make them feel like you’re different for what you do.”

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

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BEARS 23, STEELERS 17, OT