Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva covered up the name of the police shooting victim the team decided to honor all season, replacing it with the name of a military veteran who died while rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq in 2005.
CBS Sports reported that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stood by Villanueva’s decision during a press conference on Tuesday.
“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,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers collectively decided to honor Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of their helmets throughout the 2020-2021 season as part of the NFL’s social justice initiative. Rose, a black 17-year-old, was shot in the back by white police officer Michael Rosfeld after the teenager ran from a vehicle that had been pulled over in connection with a near-fatal drive-by shooting just minutes earlier.
Rosfeld’s trial lasted four days and a jury of seven men and five women concluded he was not guilty on all charges, including lesser charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury included several non-white members, including a black foreman.
“Under Pennsylvania law, police officers are justified in using force when they believe it is necessary to prevent death or serious injury to themselves or others, or if they believe it necessary to prevent a suspect’s escape from arrest. That suspect, the law continues, must have committed or attempted to commit a forcible felony and pose a danger to human life,” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported at the time.
The evidence showed that Rose was in a car that was involved in a drive-by shooting 10 minutes before the car was pulled over by police with bullet holes in the side. Video footage taken by a bystander to the drive-by showed Rose in the front passenger seat and another man in the back seat shooting at a man outside the car. That man, William Ross, told investigators that the “beef” was between himself and Rose, and that Rose shot him.
It was later determined that Rose had gun residue on his hands, an empty 9mm handgun magazine in his pocket, and a handgun with his DNA on it was also found in the vehicle.
While the law that allowed the police officer to use force on a fleeing suspect if they were involved in a felony or attempted felony may be contentious, it allowed Rosfeld to walk.
Instead of displaying Rose’s name on his helmet, Steelers player Villanueva chose to honor Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who died in 2005 while trying to save his fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle in Iraq.
Villanueva, who is also a military veteran, also broke with his team in 2017 by being the only player to stand for the national anthem. Villanueva later apologized for standing, saying he made “the organization look bad, my coach look bad, and my teammates look bad.”
Sales of Villanueva’s jersey skyrocketed after that game, The Daily Wire’s Emily Zanotti reported at the time.