The Pittsburgh Steelers will not be on the field for the US national anthem ahead of their game against the Bears in Chicago on Sunday.
Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed his team will not participate in a ceremony which has become increasingly politicised following controversial remarks by president Donald Trump.
Pittsburgh will not emerge from the locker room until the ceremony at Soldier Field is over.
President Trump has referred to players who knelt in protest against racial injustice in the US as “sons of b******” and urged NFL owners to fire them.
On Sunday morning he took to Twitter urging fans to boycott NFL games if players continued to kneel.
However, Tomlin and the Steelers do not want the growing controversy to divide Pittsburgh’s locker room and so have elected as a team not to participate.
“These are very divisive times for our country,” Tomlin told CBS. “For us, as a football team it is about us remaining solid. We are not going to be divided by anything said by anyone.
“That is the thing that I posted to our guys. I said if you feel the need to do anything I am going to be supportive of that and as Americans you have that right.
“But whatever we do we are going to do it 100 per cent and we are going to do it together. We are not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.
“This collection of men, we are chasing something here in 2017 and we are not going to play with football players and football coaches.
“We are not participating in the anthem today, not to be disrespectful to the anthem but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.
“People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem he shouldn’t be forced to choose sides.
“If a guy feels the need to do something he shouldn’t be separated from his team-mate who chooses not to.
“So we are not participating today. That is our decision. We are going to be 100 per cent. We came here to play a football game today. That is our intention so we are going to play and play to win.”
When asked if that meant the Steelers would not be on the field, Tomlin replied: “We will not be on the field.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the kneeling movement last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, refusing to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest the treatment of black people by police. Kaepernick became a free agent and has not been signed by a new team for this season.