(Image via @C_AdamskiTrib)
The Steelers have preached unity leading up to their game against the Giants this past Monday night and made the decision to honor Antwon Rose Jr. with a decal of his name on the back of their helmets, an initiative to fight social injustice. Rose, a Black 17-year-old, was fatally shot in the back by a white Pittsburgh police officer in June of 2018 in East Pittsburgh while running away after the car he was a passenger in was pulled over due to an investigation into a drive-by shooting.
Every player had Rose's name on the back of their helmets except for Alejandro Villanueva, who honored Army sergeant Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet, who was awarded the Silver Star for heroism after his death at 35 while on duty in Iraq. Cashe could become the first Black recipient of the Medal of Honor in Iraq and Afghanistan. In August, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper informed members of Congress that Cashe's actions should be rewarded with the Medal of Honor.
Tomlin said yesterday during his press conference that he gave Villanueva the OK to pay tribute to the war hero. Tomlin said he supports Villanueva and all players in however they choose to participate or not choose to participate as long as they do so thoughtfully and with class.
Rose's mother, Michelle Kenney, in a Facebook post last night expressed her displeasure with Villanueva for going against the team's agreement to have Rose's name displayed on the back of their helmets.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously, one person didn’t like the results, so they chose to do something different.” Kenney wrote. "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."
Kenney continued by writing that she will use the “negative press” as motivation 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,” she wrote. “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.”
On Wednesday morning, Cam Heyward told the media that he didn't know that Villanueva wasn't going to wear Rose's decal on the back of his helmet, which is quite alarming being that Heyward is a team captain. If Heyward didn't know, it seems Tomlin might have been the only one to know about it.
Ben Roethlisberger was also asked this morning about Villanueva's decision to have Cashe's name on the back of his helmet instead of Rose's and he wasn't aware of Villanueva's decision either.
“I didn’t know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in.”
Villanueva's intentions were good, as he was honoring a war hero who lost his life in 2005 at the age of 35 when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He probably didn't expect the backlash that he's received from some in the media and fans for the decision. Some people view it as Villanueva went against the team and unification.
This is also the second time that Villanueva has been at the center of an incident. In Chicago in 2017, the Steelers decided as a team that they wouldn't be on the field for the playing of the national anthem. It turned out to be a confusing disaster as Villaneuva was out in front standing outside of the team's tunnel for the national anthem while the rest of his team was inside the tunnel. A Bears flag poler got in the way of the rest of the team and by the time the flag person moved, the anthem started to play and everyone stopped; leaving Villanueva as the only Steelers' player visible standing for the anthem. This situation caused Villanueva to be attacked by both political sides, and it's happening again.
Villanueva did not speak with the media via Zoom in training camp and has yet to speak this season. It would be hard to imagine him speaking on this matter any time soon, as it's to be certain that his words will be politicized.