Steelers teammate ‘surprised’ by Al Villanueva covering Antwon Rose Jr.’s name on helmet

Steelers teammate ‘surprised’ by Al Villanueva covering Antwon Rose Jr.’s name on helmet

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a controversy on their hands and it has nothing to do with what happened on the field.

The team voted to wear the name of Antwon Rose Jr., — a black teenager killed by police in Pittsburgh in 2018 — on the back of their helmets during each game this season. But in Monday night’s season-opening win over the Giants, one player, offensive lineman Al Villanueva, taped over the name and put in its place the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier who was killed on duty in Iraq and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for heroism.

Villanueva is a former Army Ranger and received permission to make the change from head coach Mike Tomlin, but did not discuss it with any of his teammates — and some of them didn’t seem pleased.

“I was surprised by what Al did,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward told reporters Wednesday. “You’ll have to talk to him in the future, but in this country, we’re given the freedom to do and support those that mean a lot to us.”

Ben Roethlisberger added: “I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet. That’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”

Tomlin defended Villanueva’s right to honor a different person.

“He did discuss that with me,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “And this is in line with everything we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason. As an organization- and myself as a head coach of an 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.”

Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, wrote Tuesday on Facebook that she was unhappy with the change.

“Let me [be] very very very clear,” Kenney wrote, according to ESPN. “The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn’t like the results so they chose to do something different. I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything that 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. In my opinion; that’s for his coach, team and organization to address NOT ME! While he was so busy being negative what it actually did now forced more people to engage in this conversation… I’m going to use this negative press and negativity to motivate me to hold the Pittsburgh Steelers even more accountable!!!”

Villanueva made headlines in 2017 when the Steelers opted to stay in the locker room during the national anthem before a game in Chicago after President Trump criticized players for not standing for the anthem. Villanueva, who served tours in Afghanistan, decided to stand in front of the tunnel in the stadium so he could see the flag.

Alejandro Villanueva Steelers anthem
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva stands outside the tunnel alone during the national anthem before a game against the Chicago Bears in 2017.AP

Villanueva told Roethlisberger of his plan at the time, but Villanueva later said he was sorry for putting his team in an uncomfortable position after pictures were seen of him watching the anthem on his own.

About the author

Evan Lewis

Evan Lewis

With a knack for storytelling, Evan started News Brig about a year ago. Covering substantial topics under the Sports,, he helps information seep in deeper with creative writing and content management skills.

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