PITTSBURGH - Three days after offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva decided against wearing Antwon Rose II's name on the back of his helmet during the Steelers' opener against the Giants, Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement on the matter.
"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 read in part. "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."
Villanueva's decision has drawn criticism from Rose's family and others. The left tackle and former Army Ranger instead wrote the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet. Cashe was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Iraq.
"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 of unity in our efforts to support a more just society."
The Steelers on Monday published a story on their website outlining the decision to honor Rose, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed in 2018 by an East Pittsburgh police officer, for the 2020 season. But Villanueva's decision and a subsequent statement Thursday from veteran center Maurkice Pouncey appear to point to some players not being completely aware of what was happening regarding the move to honor Rose.
Pouncey posted on social media Thursday morning that he did not do enough research on the circumstances surrounding Rose's death and said that from now on he will make his own decisions regarding what he will wear on the back of his helmet.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addressed the issue Tuesday during his weekly news conference and said Villanueva talked to him before breaking ranks with his teammates.
"Yes, he did discuss that with me," Tomlin said. "And this is in line with everything we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason. As an organization and myself as a head coach of an organization, we are going to support our players in however they choose to participate and express themselves or to not participate or not express themselves. As long as they do so thoughtfully and with class. And so that is a blanket approach that we have had. I think it needs no further explanation in terms of our support for Al Villanueva or anyone else in terms of what they do or do not do in terms of social justice as long as they adhere to the outline that I just outlined for you."
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