The Pittsburgh Steelers as a team came together and voted on what they would wear on the rear of their helmets. This year, the NFL permitted teams to wear the names of victims of systemic racism and police brutality, or messages of anti-racism.
They came together and they elected to wear the name of Antwon Rose, Jr., who was 17 years old when he was shot three times from behind by a police officer in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago. Police stopped the vehicle he was in as the frontseat passenger when both he and the backseat passenger chose to attempt to flee the seen. The latter was apprehended; the former was shot three times and died.
The officers were responding to a call about a reported shooting involving an automobile fitting the description of the vehicle in which Rose was a passenger. Later video of the shooting obtained showed that the rearseat passenger was the shooter, and that Rose’ window was raised. There was a gun, later reported stolen, in the front seat, but it had not been fired.
The officer who shot at him as he fled could not have known any of this at the time. He could not have known that he was firing on an individual who was an accessory to a shooting when he decided to take those shots, which took away any opportunity for redemption for a boy who was otherwise universally described as a good kid, an honor student, and even somebody who was raised to be comfortable with police officers.
His mother did administrative work in a local department. His grandfather himself was an officer for 35 years. He had a number of officers in his life, in both family and friends. He hung out with the children of officers. Officers even attended his funeral.
How did it all reach this point, and how did the officer who shot him while he ran away, without any evidence that he was a threat, end up being acquitted of all charges after a trial? That is why the Steelers voted on and chose to wear his name on their helmets.
That’s why the Steelers reached out to his mother, Michelle Kenney, to let her know of the decision, and that they wanted to work with her in the activism that she began after her son was taken from her. In an article on the team’s website, she was quoted as saying, “the entire team is going to wear his name on their helmets. How do you even make sense of that? I wish I could give you some adjective to explain, but I can’t do anything but cry. I can’t do anything but cry”.
Steven Nelson and James Washington came out before the game and said that the Steelers would present a united front. The article from the team’s own website said that the team would be united in remembering Rose.
That is why Kenney was not happy when she saw what Alejandro Villanueva chose to do—even with the approval of his head coach. He taped over the name of Antwon Rose, Jr. on the back of his helmet and wrote in marker the name of Alwyn Cashe, who sacrificed his life 15 years ago in Iraq to save the lives of others. She posted about it on Facebook.
Imagine being the daughter of a police officer, having worked in a police department yourself. Imagine having your unarmed child shot by a police officer in the back and being killed. Imagine being told that your local sports team was going to be united behind his legacy, and that every player on the team would bear his name. Imagine them reaching out to you and telling you all of this.
Then imagine tuning into the game, only to see that one of the most prominent and respected members of the team taped over the name of your son to put somebody else’s name there instead. It’s quite easy to see how this would be seen as disrespectful, whether it was intended or not.
The Steelers as an organization, including the media department, significantly erred when they made such a fuss about their intentions of being a united front throughout this process only to allow one of its players deviate from that unison. If they were going to do this, they should have let it be known beforehand. They should at least have let Kenney know in advance.
I don’t know how many of you have much experience with parents who have lost children. I have more than anybody could ever want. I can easily imagine exactly what was going through her mind when she saw this after what she was told by the team. Why does my child’s name deserve to be covered up and forgotten by this person? Why doesn’t he respect what happened to my son—to my family?