Views in Pittsburgh highlight complexity surrounding NFL and national anthem

PITTSBURGH — At his White House news conference Tuesday, President Trump again blasted NFL players who don’t stand for the national anthem, saying they “disrespect our country.” 

A lot of people agree. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll Tuesday, 58 percent said pro athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem. Thirty-seven percent said their view of the NFL has become less favorable.

In total, 32 cities have NFL teams. But if you’d like to understand the complexity surrounding NFL players and the national anthem, head to Pittsburgh, CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

When Steelers lineman Alejandro Villanueva, an army vet who served in Afghanistan, stood at the edge of the field during the national anthem on Sunday, he was alone. The rest of his team stayed in the locker room to avoid controversy, Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement Tuesday.

Irate fans let the Steelers have it — lighting their jerseys on fire to protest the team not standing on the field during the anthem.

“You’re not going to disrespect our country, you’re not going to disrespect our flag,” one fan said. 

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A fan burns a “Terrible Towel” to protest the Pittsburgh Steelers.

kimmotx/CBS News

But it’s tricky in Pittsburgh.

While Villanueva’s jersey instantly became the league’s top seller — boosted by fans looking for a hero — Villanueva actually apologized, saying “unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus unintentionally … every single time I see that picture … I feel embarrassed.”

Allen Everhart says they put him up to it.

At Jerome Bettis’ restaurant, owned by the retired Steelers Hall of Famer, the 40-year Steelers fan is upset with his team for what he sees as caving to political correctness.

“I don’t think it’s a racial issue of what’s going on with the flag,” Everhart said. “I understand it’s retaliation of what Trump said, that’s probably what they’re doing, but you know, if you’re an American, you stand for the flag.”

“Some professional athletes say it’s not about disrespecting the flag; it’s about articulating our sense of injustice,” CBS News’ Axelrod said, speaking to Everhart.

“I think it’s blown out of proportion. You know, those guys are well paid athletes, and they’re just overblowing the issue,” Everhart said.

Although the bar tells you everything about the divisions in this country, the customer sitting at the next table was a former Army Reserve nurse, Kelly Allison.

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Kelly Allison

CBS News

“That is their right — their God-given, military-fought-for right, to show what they want to. If they want to kneel that’s fine,” Allison said.

In one of Mr. Trump’s 22 tweets about the controversy, he said: “NFL ratings and attendance are way down.”

He’s half right. Ratings were down two percent last season, but attendance last year was the highest since 2007.

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Source: CBS News – United States

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