The Steelers announced that every player would wear the name of Antwon Rose on their helmets this season, but offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva did not.
Instead, Villanueva honored Alwyn Cashe, a U.S. Army sergeant who died of injuries suffered in Iraq in 2005.
Cashe is certainly worthy of being honored. In October of 2005, he was in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device. He exited the vehicle with only minor injuries, but the vehicle was on fire with other injured soldiers inside, so he went back to the burning vehicle multiple times to pull his fellow soldiers out, rescuing six soldiers in all. In the process of rescuing those soldiers, Cashe was burned over 72 percent of his body, and he died of those burns three weeks later.
Cashe was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, but there has been a movement to give Cashe the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. Villanueva’s decision will bring attention to that movement.
Not everyone is happy with Villanueva’s decision. The NFL has said that only pre-approved names could appear on helmets this year, and that the names recognized would be for victims of racial injustice. Cashe was not on the NFL’s pre-approved list and, although he was black, Villanueva was honoring him for his military heroism, not for having been a victim of racial injustice.
Among those criticizing Villanueva was the mother of Antwon Rose, Michelle Kenney, who wrote on Facebook that Villanueva’s decision turned what should have been a positive situation into a negative.
“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,” she wrote.
Rose was a 17-year-old black boy who was fatally shot in the back by a white East Pittsburgh police officer while running away after the car he was a passenger in was pulled over as part of an investigation into a drive-by shooting. The officer, Michael Rosfeld, was charged with murder but found not guilty by a jury made up of nine white jurors and three black jurors.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that even though Villanueva did not go along with a decision the team made jointly, he still supports Villanueva.
This is not the first time Villanueva has bucked the team. In 2017, when Tomlin told the entire team to stay in the locker room for the national anthem, Villanueva stepped outside the locker room and stood and saluted. Villanueva, who played his college football at Army, served in Afghanistan before playing in the NFL.