The name of Alwyn Cashe was displayed prominently during the Monday Night Football broadcast of the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. It was written, in marker, on the back of Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva’s helmet—there all expected to see another name, Antwon Rose Jr.
The team made a big deal about being united on this and other issues. It’s what Steven Nelson and James Washington were quoted as saying on the team’s own website in the days leading up to the game. An article there quotes Blake’s mother as expressing her appreciation for the fact that everybody would be wearing her son’s name.
She was not happy to learn that someone had chosen to do otherwise. While head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday said that Villanueva had discussed his decision with him at some point prior to the game, and that it needed no further explanation, two of the team’s captains today confirmed that they were not aware of his decision.
“I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet”, Roethlisberger told reporters earlier today. “Obviously, it’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is”.
Cashe was a decorated war hero who was awarded the Silver Star for his courageous and selfless deeds in Iraq, after an armored vehicle was struck by an IED. Despite being relatively unscathed upon impact himself, he continually and repeatedly put himself in harm’s way to pull others from the flames, his clothes igniting with the spilled fuel as he did so. He refused medivac until all others had been treated first, and died weeks later due to the damage he sustained as a result. A veteran also of the Gulf War, he was 35 when he died.
But it wasn’t the name anybody expected to be there. And like in 2017, Villanueva ended up standing on his own, apart from his teammates, though only this time not so literally. The effect was the same, however—leaving his teammates to answer questions about the confusion it created.
Cameron Heyward said that he was “surprised by what Al did”, also acknowledging that he and the rest of his teammates had no prior knowledge to what he would be doing, and that reporters would have to talk to him about his decision, but like Roethlisberger, added that it was his choice.
“We chose the first game to represent her son”, he said, when asked about Rose’s mother’s reaction. “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”.
This was an entirely unnecessary and avoidable incident that we nonetheless are discussing today, much like in 2017, after the Steelers made an overt statement about wanting to present unity, and then lacking that from one player—with the coach’s approval.
Because of the sensitive nature of this topic and the way that it has been handled by the community in earlier articles, we are choosing at this time to publish this article without open comments. I’m sure regular readers can understand why we are doing this.