Pittsburgh Steelers Players React to Alejandro Villanueva Honoring Fallen War Veteran on Helmet Decal

by Josh Lanier
Steelers' Alejandro Villanueva Honors Fallen Military Hero on Monday Night Football
Photo credit: Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers voted in the offseason to honor Antwon Rose Jr. — a teenager killed by Pittsburgh Police — by putting his name on the back of their helmets. But players were surprised to learn teammate Alejandro Villanueva had chosen to write in someone else’s name during the team’s season opener.

Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, wrote the name Alwyn Cashe on his helmet. Army Sgt 1st Class Cashe died in 2005 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Military Times. He was attempting to save soldier trapped in a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

Villanueva’s teammates didn’t know he was going to do that.

“I was surprised by what Al did,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward told reporters Wednesday, according to the NY Post. “You’ll have to talk to him in the future, but in this country, we’re given the freedom to do and support those that mean a lot to us.”

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and Head Coach Mike Tomlin Weighs In on Villanueva’s Helmet

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also weighed in on his left tackle’s decision.

“I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet. That’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”

Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he spoke with Villanueva about his helmet before the Monday Night Game.

He did discuss that with me. 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 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 doesn’t do in regards to social justice, as long as they adhere to the outline that I just outlined for you

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin

Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, posted on Facebook that she wasn’t happy with Villanueva’s decision, ESPN reported.

“Let me [be] very very very clear. The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn’t like the results so they chose to do something different. 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. In my opinion; that’s for his coach, team and organization to address NOT ME! While he was so busy being negative what it actually did now forced more people to engage in this conversation… I’m going to use this negative press and negativity to motivate me to hold the Pittsburgh Steelers even more accountable!!!”

It’s not the first time Villanueva has stood out from his team. In 2017 he was the lone Steelers player to take the field during the national anthem. He later said he had “unintentionally” separated himself from his team and that he supported those who kneel during the national anthem.

Villanueva hasn’t commented on changing the name on his helmet.