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Not all players on board as Steelers honor Black shooting victim on helmets

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster celebrates with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Most Pittsburgh Steelers players wore the name of Antwon Rose Jr., a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in 2018, on the back of their helmets.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva has taken some heat for being the only Pittsburgh Steelers player who did not display the name of Antwon Rose Jr. — a unarmed Black teenager shot and killed by a white police officer in 2018 — on the back of his helmet on “Monday Night Football” this week.

But Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey indicated Thursday he might act similarly in the future.

“Moving forward, I will make my own decision about what to wear on the back of my helmet,” Pouncey said in a statement posted on Instagram. “Make no mistake, I am against racism and I believe the best thing I can do is to continue helping repair relationships between the police and the communities.”

Rose, 17, was shot three times from behind by East Pittsburgh Police officer Michael Rosfeld on June 22, 2018, as he tried to flee the scene during a traffic stop. Rosfeld was charged with homicide but was acquitted by a jury last year.

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The Steelers voted as a team to recognize Rose on their helmets throughout the 2020 season. But during Monday’s season opener against the New York Giants, Villanueva, an Army veteran, covered Rose’s name with a piece of tape bearing the name of Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier who died in 2005 after sustaining injuries while serving in Iraq.

Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, expressed her disapproval of the move Tuesday on Facebook in a post that appears to have since been removed.

“The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn’t like the results so they chose to do something different,” Kenney wrote. " 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.”

Villanueva has not publicly commented on his decision, which some teammates have said caught them off guard. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Villanueva received his approval before covering Rose’s name.

“It’s in line with everything we’ve said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “As an organization, and myself as a head coach of an 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.”

Team president Art Rooney II expressed similar sentiments in a statement released Thursday.

“As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves and social justice topics,” Rooney wrote. “We understand that individually we may say or do things that are not universally accepted. There will be uncomfortable conversations. But we will strive to be a force for unity in our efforts to support a more just society.”


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