Cam Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger Surprised Alejandro Villanueva Did Not Honor Antwon Rose Jr.
PITTSBURGH -- All but one member of the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field at MetLife Stadium wearing the name Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of their helmets.
As the Steelers displayed the late Rose's name in remembrance of the 17-year-old who was fatally shot by an East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018, tackle Alejandro Villanueva wrote a different name on his helmet.
Villanueva covered Rose's name with his own tape and wrote Alwyn Cashe's name instead.
Cashe, who was black, passed away in 2005 while overseas in Samarra, Iraq. According to the Military Times, Cashe was involved in an explosion when his vehicle drove by an improvised explosive device detonated.
Cashe died three weeks after the incident from second and third-degree burns after he went back into the vehicle to try and save fellow soldiers. He was awarded the Silver Star for heroism.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference that he was aware Villanueva would wear a different name on his helmet.
"It's in line with everything that we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason," Tomlin said. "As an organization, and myself as the head coach of the organization, we're going to support our players in however they choose to participate and express themselves, or to not participate and not express themselves. As long as they do so thoughtfully and with class."
His teammates weren't aware of the change, though.
Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward both said that they didn't know Villanueva would display a different name from the rest of the team.
"I did not know about Al's choice for the back of his helmet," Roethlisberger said. "That's his choice and that's the amazing thing about the country we live in."
Heyward said he was surprised by Villanueva's decision to represent Cashe. According to Heyward, the team discussed their intentions on Wednesday, looking to stand united as they showed solidarity against racism.
"We were working on something that didn't have to be politicized," Heyward said. "We wanted to be straight forward and let you know, we're against racism and we want to end racism. We have a lot of things going on in our world that support that. We have to grow not only as a team but as a community to eradicate that and grow.
"I was unaware of it. We discussed it before. That's 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."
Villenueva's decision not to represent Rose received a negative response from Rose's mother, Michelle Kenney.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously, one person didn't like the results, so they chose to do something different," Kenney wrote.
Heyward said he remains supportive of Kenney and her efforts throughout the city, and acknowledged that there were flaws in their efforts to show that support.
"We chose this first game to represent her son. We chose to support her son and if she wants to make the community close, that's what we've got to do," Heyward said. "Was it perfect at the end of the day? No. But as a collective unit, we wanted to support her and her family and draw awareness."