Only one Steelers player covered up the name of a police shooting victim on his helmet

Liz Roscher

The Pittsburgh Steelers wore the name Antwon Rose Jr. on the backs of their helmets on Monday night to honor the victims of systemic racism. Rose, a 17-year-old Black teenager who was killed by East Pittsburgh police in 2018, was chosen after the team took a vote.

On Monday night, one Steelers player did not wear Rose’s name on the back of his helmet. Offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva covered up Rose’s name with tape and wrote Alwyn Cashe over it. Cashe was a Black US Army sergeant who served in Iraq and died of injuries he sustained while on tour there.

Wearing Rose’s name was supposed to be a show of team unity, but it appears that Villanueva decided to honor someone of his own choosing despite the team vote. Villanueva is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan as a Ranger, and earned the Bronze Star for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.

Cashe, who was burned over 72 percent of his body while trying to rescue his fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star after he died of his injuries. There has been a multi-year effort to have him awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

While Cashe certainly deserves to be honored, the purpose of the NFL allowing names on the backs of helmets was to honor victims of systemic racism. Cashe, though Black, died in military service, while Rose was a victim of police violence. The two are different. Additionally, Cashe’s name was not cleared by the NFL while Rose’s was. It’s not clear if Villanueva will continue to wear Cashe’s name on the back of his helmet for the rest of the season, as the Steelers plan to do with Rose, or if the NFL will intervene in any way if he chooses to do so.

Roethlisberger surprised, but Tomlin was aware

It appears that a number of Villanueva’s teammates were unaware that he would be covering Rose’s name, which they had all agreed on by majority vote. Team captain and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward was unaware that Villanueva was going to do that.

“Honestly, I was unaware of it,” Heyward told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday morning. “We had discussed it before and it was brought up to us. That is for him to comment on in the future. I’m not going to sit up here and speak for him. He’s his own man and we’ll move forward.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the Tribune-Review that he was surprised by it.

“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.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin may be the only person who was aware that Villanueva would be covering Rose’s name and replacing it with Cashe’s. Via Steelers Depot:

“He did discuss that with me and it’s in line with everything that we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason,” he told reporters when asked if he was aware of what Villanueva intended to do—much like when he alone was out on the field for the national anthem back in 2017.

“As an organization, and myself as the head coach of the 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,” Tomlin added. “And so that has been a blanket approach that we’ve had. And so I think it needs no further explanation in terms of our support for Al Villanueva or anyone else in terms of what they do or doesn’t do in regards to social justice, as long as they adhere to the outline that I just outlined for you.”

Villanueva was also the only Steelers player to come out for the national anthem in 2017 after the entire team voted to stay in the locker room in protest.

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Alejandro Villanueva sits on the sideline.
Alejandro Villanueva was the only Steelers player to cover up the name of Antwon Rose Jr., a victim of police violence, on his helmet Monday night. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Roethlisberger surprised, but Tomlin was aware

It appears that a number of Villanueva’s teammates were unaware that he would be covering Rose’s name, which they had all agreed on by majority vote. Team captain and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward was unaware that Villanueva was going to do that.

“Honestly, I was unaware of it,” Heyward told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Wednesday morning. “We had discussed it before and it was brought up to us. That is for him to comment on in the future. I’m not going to sit up here and speak for him. He’s his own man and we’ll move forward.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the Tribune-Review that he was surprised by it.

“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.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin may be the only person who was aware that Villanueva would be covering Rose’s name and replacing it with Cashe’s. Via Steelers Depot:

“He did discuss that with me and it’s in line with everything that we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason,” he told reporters when asked if he was aware of what Villanueva intended to do—much like when he alone was out on the field for the national anthem back in 2017.

“As an organization, and myself as the head coach of the 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,” Tomlin added. “And so that has been a blanket approach that we’ve had. And so I think it needs no further explanation in terms of our support for Al Villanueva or anyone else in terms of what they do or doesn’t do in regards to social justice, as long as they adhere to the outline that I just outlined for you.”

Villanueva was also the only Steelers player to come out for the national anthem in 2017 after the entire team voted to stay in the locker room in protest.

More from Yahoo Sports: