Steelers Captains Were ‘Unaware’ of Villanueva’s Plans for Helmet Decal


Sarah Stier/Getty Images Eric Ebron #85 of the Pittsburgh Steelers raises his fist during the National Anthem before the game against the New York Giants on September 14, 2020.

On Wednesday morning Pittsburgh Steelers captains Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward were asked about left tackle Alejandro Villanueva not wearing the helmet decal honoring the memory of Antwon Rose Jr. during Monday night’s game against the New York Giants. (Instead Villanueva taped over Rose’s name and substituted the name of late Army sergeant Alwyn Cashe, a Silver Star recipient who is under consideration for the Medal of Honor.)

Cameron Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger Weigh In

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, defensive captain Cameron Heyward said, “Honestly, I was unaware of it,” via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “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.”

Similarly, quarterback and offensive captain Ben Roethlisberger said he didn’t know that Villanueva was going to break with his teammates.

“I didn’t know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet,” said Roethlisberger. “That’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in.”

Michelle Kenney’s Criticism of Al Villanueva

Heyward and Roethlisberger found themselves addressing the issue on Wednesday after Antwon Rose Jr.’s mother, Michelle Kenny, took to Facebook on Tuesday night and criticized Villanueva for taping over her late son’s name, noting that the team collectively voted to honor him by wearing an Antwon Rose Jr. decal for the entire 2020 season.

“The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously, one person didn’t like the results, so they chose to do something different,” Kenney wrote, noting: “I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything 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.”

“Steelers Against Racism”

Yet in Cameron Heyward’s mind, the team was supporting Kenney’s son as part of a larger effort to fight racism, one that included holding a large white banner that read “Steelers Against Racism” during the playing of the national anthem on Monday night.

“We were working on something that didn’t have to be politicized,” Heyward said. “We wanted to be straightforward to let you know that we are against racism, and we want to end racism. We have to grow not only as a team but as a community to eradicate that.”

The NFL is allowing players to wear the names of victims of police brutality on their helmets this season, paving the way for the Steelers to honor the memory of Antwon Rose Jr.

Yet his name has proven to be a lightning rod. The 17-year-old died after being shot three times by an East Pittsburgh police officer in June 2018. The shooting occurred after the officer in question stopped the Chevy Cruze in which Rose was a passenger; the car matched the description of a vehicle reportedly involved in a drive-by shooting. Rose was shot in the back while he was running away.

As for Alwyn C. Cashe, in October 2005 he suffered burn wounds that ultimately proved fatal after an improvised explosive device detonated and he made heroic efforts to rescue fellow soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The Pentagon is moving towards posthumously awarding the Medal of Honor to Cashe, which would make him the first African American recipient of the award for combat valor in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

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