The Steelers announced that every player would have the name Antwon Rose on their helmets this season, but offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva would not.
Instead, Villanueva paid tribute to Alwyn Cashe, a US Army sergeant who died in 2005 from injuries sustained in Iraq.
Cashe is certainly worth honoring. In October 2005, he was in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device. He got out of the vehicle with only minor injuries, but the vehicle burned with other injured soldiers inside. Therefore, he went back to the burning vehicle several times to pull out his fellow soldiers and save a total of six soldiers. In rescuing these soldiers, Cashe was burned over 72 percent of his body and died from the burns three weeks later.
Cashe was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, but there was a movement to bestow Cashe with the military’s highest distinction, the Medal of Honor. Villanueva’s decision will draw attention to this 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 recognized names would apply to victims of racial injustice. Cashe was not on the NFL’s pre-approved list and, despite being black, Villanueva honored him for his military heroism, not for being the victim of racial injustice.
Among those who criticized Villanueva was Antwon Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, who wrote on Facebook that Villanueva’s decision turned a positive situation into a negative one.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers did a team vote. Obviously, one person didn’t like the results and decided to do something else. I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything that they have done and continue to do for us. But that one person showed us exactly who he is, and obviously he didn’t agree to how the vote went, ”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 he ran away after the car he was a passenger in was run over as part of a drive-by gun investigation had been. Officer Michael Rosfeld was charged with murder but found not guilty by a jury of nine white and three black jurors.
Steeler’s trainer Mike Tomlin said Villanueva continues to support Villanueva despite disagreeing with a decision the team made together.
This isn’t the first time Villanueva has defied the team. When Tomlin told the entire team in 2017 to stay in the locker room for the national anthem, Villanueva stepped out of the locker room and stood up and saluted. Villanueva, who played his college football with Army, served in Afghanistan before playing in the NFL.