PITTSBURGH -- Alejandro Villanueva turned the course of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 1 demonstrate to support social justice and the end of racism. As the team took the field wearing Antwon Rose Jr.'s name on their helmet, the left tackle wrote his own sign of support over the Rose sticker.
Villanueva wrote Alwyn Cashe, a Sgt. First Class who passed away in 2005 after rescuing six soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq.
According to the Military Times, a vehicle Cashe was riding in caught flames after an improvised explosive device detonated. He suffered second and third-degree burns on 70% of his body as he ran back into the vehicle to try and rescue his fellow soldiers. He passed three weeks later.
"I felt that my decision to honor Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe was something that was very personal to me due to the fact that in the veteran community, there's a strong push to get him a Medal of Honor, which is something that the community believes that he deserves," said Villanueva, a former Army Ranger. "I think that the timing was perfect due to the fact that it gave the lawmakers a little bit of momentum going forward. The family has been waiting for 15 years to hear something from his chain of command, from Congress regarding the exception of his five-year statutory limit that could potentially get him the Medal of Honor."
Despite the five year limitation on Medal of Honor recipients, Cashe is being considered for the honor.
Villanueva received plenty of criticism for the decision, which struck a debate between fans on whether or not the team should have honored Rose in Week 1. The decision was not made to disregard Rose.
"The decision had to do exclusively with Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe and his pursuit for the Medal of Honor, which is something that he deserves and hopefully he'll get soon," Villanueva said in his first interview of the season.
The Steelers have since diversified their support against social injustice by displaying names or phrases of their choice.
For Villanueva, he continues to push for Cashe's recognition and feels his relationship with the veterans, and the military is one worth fighting for.
"The issues that matter to veterans are incredibly important," Villanueva said. "I feel like I don't do enough as an American every day to enjoy my liberties and I feel very thankful to have the support of the veteran community and the background to appreciate the freedoms that we all enjoy."