Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva chose to cover the name of police shooting victim Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of his helmet during Pittsburgh's game against the New York Giants on "Monday Night Football.'' Villanueva chose instead to write the name Alwyn Cashe, a veteran who died during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2005.
As the NFL has allowed players to wear helmet decals honoring the victims of systemic racism, the Steelers decided as a team to honor Rose -- a Black teenager shot in the back by a white police officer in Pittsburgh in 2018 after he ran from a vehicle that was pulled over -- for the entirety of the season. The now-former East Pittsburgh officer was charged with murder, but a jury found him not guilty in March 2019.
Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, decided to break from the team and replace Rose's name with Cashe's, a Sgt. 1st Class who died after trying to rescue soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he approved of his player's decision.
"As an organization, and myself as the head coach of the organization, we're going to support our players however they chose to participate and express themselves, or to not participate or not express themselves, as long as they do so thoughtfully and with class," said Tomlin Tuesday during a press conference. Tomlin added that Villanueva's choice didn't warrant an explanation.
This isn't the first time the veteran lineman publicly broke away from a team's supposedly unified decision for his own reasons. At the start of the 2017 season, he was the only Steelers player to leave the locker room and stand for the national anthem after Tomlin said the team would stay behind to avoid making a statement -- "Whatever we do, we're going to do 100 percent. We're going to do it together."
Villanueva apologized for his decision to stand alone, saying he felt "embarrassed" because it made "the organization look bad, my coach look bad, and my teammates look bad."