How are the Pittsburgh Steelers supposed to focus on winning when they are no longer sure who to trust? Art Rooney II is trying to quell dissent over a botched attempt to show support for the social justice cause currently captivating the country.
Meanwhile, Steelers players Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, Vince Williams, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are left to wonder what’s going on in an organization long held up as the best of breed in the NFL.
Pittsburgh Steelers players had ‘limited information’
Veteran Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey appears to feel hoodwinked by a decision the team made to place the name of a deceased Black teen on the back of their helmets for the Sept. 14 NFL opener against the New York Giants.
Fellow offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva had been the only player opting to cover up the name of Antwon Rose Jr., 17, who was shot and killed by a police officer in East Pittsburgh in 2018. Villanueva taped over Rose’s name with that of Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who died from injuries while rescuing injured and trapped soldiers following an ambush in Afghanistan. Head coach Mike Tomlin said afterward that Villanueva had his blessing to do so.
Rose’s family and others subsequently attacked Villanueva, a U.S. Military Academy graduate who did three tours of duty in Afghanistan, according to the Post-Gazette. The teen’s mother said head coach Mike Tomlin had assured her that the entire team voted to wear Rose’s name on their helmets all season.
Steelers linebacker Vince Williams said this week that no vote had been taken and that he didn’t know whose name was being placed on his helmet, according to TribLive.com. That was followed by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick also saying that there was no vote and that the decision to highlight Rose’s death “came from upstairs.”
On Thursday, Pouncey posted on Instagram that he had been given “limited information” before supporting the vote to use Rose’s name on helmets. Pouncey said that he will make his own decisions about what goes on his helmet in the future.
How did Antwon Rose Jr. die in East Pittsburgh?
According to the New York Times, the teen whose name appeared on Pittsburgh Steelers helmets during Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season, died in a shooting on June 19, 2018. Antwon Rose Jr. was a passenger in a car pulled over by a police officer because it matched the description of a vehicle involved in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier.
As the police officer handcuffed the driver, Rose and another passenger jumped out of the vehicle and attempted to flee. Rose was shot in the face, arm, and back and died from his wounds. Gunshot residue was found on his hands. The other teen who attempted to flee later pleaded guilty in connection to the drive-by shooting.
The police officer was charged with homicide and was acquitted after a four-day trial and four hours of jury deliberation. The officer testified that he thought one of the fleeing teens had pointed a gun at him.
Rose’s parents filed a civil rights lawsuit that was settled for $2 million.
Pouncey, described by TribLive.com as an “ardent supporter of causes related to police,” has not spoken to reporters this week. But his change of heart about wearing Rose’s name on his helmet in the future might stem from learning the details of why the teen came into contact with police.
Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II issues a statement
“As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics,” Rooney’s statement said. “We will continue to support our social initiatives to fight against social injustice and systemic racism not only in our area but around the country.
“Along the way, 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.”
Rooney’s statement did not shed light on who picked Antwon Rose’s name. With the circumstances around his death being rehashed in the wake of players’ comments this week, it is not clear whether Rose’s name will remain on helmets for upcoming games.