On Monday September 14 the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that all of the team’s players would be wearing Antwon Rose Jr. decals on their helmets this season. (Rose was a Black teenager who died after he was shot in the back three times by a white East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018.)
Then OT Alejandro Villenueva called an audible and covered the Antwon Rose Jr. decal on his helmet during Monday night’s 26-16 victory over the New York Giants. Instead Villenueva chose to display the name of Alwyn Cashe, an Army sergeant and Iraq War hero who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Villanueva’s decision led to controversy, as the longtime Steelers left tackle—a graduate of West Point Military Academy and a former Army Ranger—was called out by Rose’s mother.
In turn, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey came forward on Thursday with an Instagram post advising that going forward, he would make his “own decision” about what to wear on the back of his helmet, telling readers he “inadvertently supported a cause of which I did not fully comprehend….”
Minkah Fitzpatrick Provides Clarity
On Thursday, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick provided a little more insight as to how the players came to wear Antwon Rose Jr. decals on their helmets, telling the media: “We knew we were going to have somebody on the back of our helmets and it wasn’t exactly clear on what it was going to be,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was mostly made by everyone upstairs.”
That seems to contradict the notion that the decision to wear Antwon Rose Jr. decals came by way of team vote, as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin purportedly told Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, during a phone call last week.
Regardless, Fitzpatrick doesn’t think there has been—or will be—problems in the locker room in the wake of the controversy.
“I don’t think there’s any cohesion issues,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re all grown men. We all have one goal and that’s to win the Super Bowl and we’re able to put all that little stuff to the side.”
Art Rooney II’s Statement
Yet the issue caused enough of a firestorm that it led Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II to issue a statement on Thursday, which said that the organization respects “the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics,” before adding:
“…. 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.
“With our support, our players have and will support our communities to address these issues with tangible actions. Our players have done an amazing job in helping create social justice platforms that we have already begun participating in this year. But we know there is still work to be done. This season our primary focuses in terms of social justice funds and activities will be voter registration and awareness, community and police forums, and education and community investment.
For one, the Steelers will reportedly open Heinz Field for voting in November, making them the first NFL team to join the non-partisan Election Super Centers Project.
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