Cam Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger unaware that Alejandro Villanueva chose not to honor Antwon Rose
Cameron Heyward, a team captain and a leader on the Pittsburgh Steelers social justice committee, was “surprised” that tackle Alejandro Villanueva did not display Antwon Rose Jr.’s name on the back of his helmet like the rest of his teammates in the season opener Monday night.
Steelers players voted to honor Rose, the 17-year-old who died after being shot by an East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018, by having his name written on their helmets for the “Monday Night Football” game at the New York Giants.
However, coach Mike Tomlin said he gave his blessing for Villanueva to support Alwyn Cashe, an Army sergeant who was killed in 2005 while on active duty in Iraq, instead of Rose.
Villanueva taped over Rose’s name and wrote in the name of Cashe, a Silver Star recipient who is up for the prestigious Medal of Honor.
“Honestly, I was unaware of it,” Heyward said Wednesday morning. “We had discussed it before and it was brought up to us. That is 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.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, also a team captain, said he didn’t have advance warning that Villanueva was not going to honor Rose, either.
“I didn’t know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in.”
Villanueva was not made available to the media Wednesday. He missed practice because of an illness.
For this season, the NFL is allowing players to place names of victims of police brutality and systemic racism on the padding of their helmets. Rose was shot in the back while he and another teen fled following a police stop.
Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, wrote on a Facebook post Tuesday night that was critical of Villanueva’s decision. Kenney has since deleted her post.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously, one person didn’t like the results, so they chose to do something different,” Kenney wrote, adding, “They came to me as a team/organization and I don’t care how good of an individual you are, if you are not a TEAM player, then maybe you are playing for the wrong team.”
Heyward, who was born in Pittsburgh and makes his home here in the offseason, helped spearhead the effort to have Rose recognized, and Tomlin called Kenney last week to ask for her permission for the players to display her son’s name on the players’ helmets.
“We chose the first game to represent her son,” Heyward said. “We chose to support her son. If she wants to make the community closer, that’s what we’ve got to do. Was it perfect at the end of the day? No, but as a collective unit we wanted to support her and her family.”
The Steelers also unfurled a large white banner during the playing of the national anthem Monday. The sign read, “Steelers against racism,” and included the hometowns of the team’s players.
“We were working on something that didn’t have to be politicized,” Heyward said. “We wanted to be straight forward to let you know that we are against racism, and we want to end racism.
“We have to grow not only as team but as a community to eradicate that.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .