After the Steelers announced that all of their players would be wearing the name of Antwon Rose on the back of their helmets, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva opted to write the name of Alwyn Cashe on his helmet instead.
Villanueva’s move took a couple of his teammates by surprise, but he won’t be alone in breaking ranks moving forward. Center Maurkice Pouncey wrote in an Instagram post that he was given “limited information” about the circumstances concerning Rose’s death in a shooting by a police officer. Pouncey noted his work with police in Pittsburgh and in Florida and said he “should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety.”
Rose was shot in the back while running away after his car was pulled over during an investigation into a drive-by shooting. The officer was acquitted by a jury and another passenger in the car pled guilty to the drive-by shooting.
“Moving forward, I will make my own decision about what to wear on the back of my helmet,” Pouncey wrote. “Make no mistake, I am against racism and I believe the best thing I can do is to continue helping repair relationships between the police and their communities. Systemic racism issues have occurred in our country for too long, and that needs to stop.”
Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement on Thursday saying he was “proud of the way our players have responded to the need for greater efforts to bring awareness and changes to combat racism and social injustice.” He added that the team will support players making individual decisions on that front.
“As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics,” Rooney said. “We will continue to support our social initiatives to fight against social injustice and systemic racism not only in our area, but around the country. Along the way, we understand that individually we may say or do things that are not universally accepted. There will be uncomfortable conversations. But we will strive to be a force for unity in our efforts to support a more just society.”
The Steelers play the Broncos on Sunday and it remains to be seen if others will move to make a change to the backs of their helmets.