Pittsburg Steelers voted to put Antwon Rose Jr.’s name on the back of their helmets for the 2020 season. Rose, a black teenager, was killed in 2018 by East Pittsburg police. One player, however, surprised some of his teammates when his helmet bore a different name on Monday night.
Offensive lineman Al Villanueva had the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier killed on duty in Iraq and posthumously awarded the Silver Star for heroism, on his helmet. Villanueva, who is a former Army Ranger, covered up Rose's name and put Cashe's in its place.
Villanueva had told Coach Mike Tomlin about the changes he would make, but his teammates were caught off guard.
"I was surprised by what Al did," defensive captain Cam Heyward stated on Wednesday. "You'll have to talk to him in the future, but in this country, we're given the freedom to do and support those that mean a lot to us."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said: "I did not know about Al's choice for the back of his helmet. That's his choice. That's the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is."
Rose's mother, Michelle Kenney, uploaded a Facebook post expressing her disappointment with Villanueva's changes.
"Let me very very very clear. The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn't like the results so they chose to do something different. I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything that they have done and continue to do for us. But this one person showed us exactly who he is and obviously he didn't approve of how the vote turned out. In my opinion; that's for his coach, team and organization to address NOT ME! While he was so busy being negative what it actually did now forced more people to engage in this conversation,” she wrote.
"I'm going to use this negative press and negativity to motivate me to hold the Pittsburgh Steelers even more accountable!!! Yes I believe in second chances but as we all know I believe in putting in the work and that's how I base my collaborations. They came to me as a team/organization and I don't care how good of an individual you are; if you are not a TEAM player then maybe you are playing for the wrong team!!!" the post continued.
Coach Tomlin stated that Villanueva told him about the change, and that he supported it.
"He did discuss that with me," Tomlin stated. "And this is in line with everything we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason. As an organization and myself as a head coach of an organization, we are going to support our players in however they choose to participate and express themselves or to not participate or not express themselves, as long as they do so thoughtfully and with class."
"Was it perfect at the end of the day? No," Heyward said of Villanueva's change. "As a collective unit, we wanted to support [Rose's] family and bring awareness."
Sources: America Now