CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says he "strongly disagrees" with NFL players protesting during the national anthem.
The Republican, a former businessman, is part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. During Sunday's game in Chicago, all but one of the Steelers stayed in the locker room during the anthem in protest of President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL players.
Rauner says in a Monday statement that the protesters are "disrespecting" the country's foundations and veterans. He says he "cannot and will not condone such behavior." He adds that players have the freedom of expression and can "choose to be disrespectful."
About 200 players nationwide kneeled or sat during the anthem Sunday.
Among other things, Trump has called for protesting players to be fired. Many players, owners and commissioners have chastised Trump for his remarks.
On Monday, there were signs that some around the NFL already were ready to move on from their anthem-related gestures prodded by President Donald Trump 's profane broadside against such actions.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, said Monday - after a sleepless night - that he regretted that most of his team remained in the tunnel during "The Star-Spangled Banner" instead of appearing on the sideline before a 23-17 loss at Chicago on Sunday.
"Moving forward, we will be on the field," Roethlisberger said. "What we do when we're out there is yet to be determined."
Other players and coaches indicated that their teams would discuss as a group how they want to proceed next weekend during the anthem.
But there seemed to be a sentiment that fewer people would participate.
"I would anticipate maybe this one was stronger this week than it's ever been, because (Trump's) comments affected people on such a different level," Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We haven't talked about it further as a team, but my initial response would be it would settle more back down."
More than 200 NFL players made some form of gesture at games on Sunday - many kneeling or sitting on the bench - in reaction to comments and tweets by Trump, who called on team owners to fire players who followed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's lead by kneeling during the national anthem. Some owners locked arms with players.
Trump's unprompted raising of this issue began with a speech Friday night in Alabama, where he told a crowd of supporters, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired, he's fired."
He then followed up with a series of inflammatory tweets over the weekend and into Monday , even drawing other sports such as the NBA and NASCAR into the fray.
"After this first week," Quinn said, "I think people wanted to come out loud and clear and say, 'This isn't cool.'"
Kaepernick, who no longer has a job with any NFL team, began kneeling during the anthem in the preseason a year ago to make a statement about social inequality and police treatment of blacks in the United States.
A handful of players had carried on what Kaepernick started; a half-dozen engaged in some form of protest last week.
"It certainly is our hope that people stand during the national anthem, but we also respect their right to make a personal statement or expression of their personal beliefs," NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.
"In the first couple weeks of this year, it was a handful of people expressing themselves. We defended their right to do that," Lockhart said. "There were a whole lot of people this weekend doing that, and the only thing that has changed were some comments from someone who lives in Washington."
As for what happens now, Miami Dolphins guard Jermon Bushrod hoped the discussion and attention generated by the past few days can lead to some good.
"You can't do something and have no action behind it. Now we have to figure out what's the next step," said Bushrod, who stood arm-in-arm with teammates for the anthem before Miami's loss to the New York Jets.
"The tone and the delivery of everything from the President was kind of divisive. It angered a lot of people," Bushrod said. "We're just trying to bring awareness to something that needs to be cleared up. Nobody is trying to disrespect the flag or the military. It's a tough situation where we feel we needed to come together."
Roethlisberger's Steelers was one of three teams that did not appear on the field for the national anthem at all Sunday - the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans were the others - and Lockhart said no players would be punished for that.
He also said the league will continue to have the anthem played before every game.
"If the President wants to engage in something positive, productive and constructive," Lockhart said, "he knows our number."