Starting with their season opener Monday night against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, their helmets will bear the name of Antwon Rose Jr. on the white plastic bar at the back of each player’s helmet. Rose, a Black 17-year-old, died in June 2018 after being shot in the back by a White East Pittsburgh police officer as he fled the scene when a car in which he was riding was pulled over during an investigation into a drive-by shooting. Two firearms were found in the vehicle, but Rose was unarmed when he was shot. Officer Michael Rosfeld was charged with murder and found not guilty the following March.
One Steelers player did not participate, however. Offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva covered up Rose’s name and wrote the name of Alwyn Cashe over it. Cashe was a sergeant in the U.S. Army who died in 2005 after attempting to rescue fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle following a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq. He received the posthumous Silver Star for valor in combat.
Villanueva played football at Army before serving three tours of duty in Afghanistan and then joining the NFL in 2014.
Michelle Kenney, Rose’s mother, said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she got news of the Steelers’ decision last week from Coach Mike Tomlin.
“To get a call, with Mike Tomlin on the phone, to tell me he has two sons and he worries, too,” Kenney told Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley. “He said the team took a vote and they decided to do it. He told me he understood. He told me he worries about his kids. My thought was if he is worried about his kids, then everybody has to worry.
“Then to say we are going to support you. We want you to be involved in what we are doing. There are no words to describe that. I am just Antwon’s mom. This situation comes with a whole lot of pain. I mean a lot of pain.”
Gisele Fetterman told The Washington Post in June 2018 that Rose had volunteered to work with her organization, which distributes donated goods to community members in need, in 2015. “He was friendly, easy to work with, smart, vibrant,” Fetterman said. “He was a caring person, and everyone loved him.”
Kenney described life since receiving the call as a “whirlwind.”
“There are so many mixed emotions. I realize at the end of the day, Antwon is gone,” she said. “But the Steelers are taking a stand. They are trying to make change and they want to be involved. That means more to me than anything. There are kids out here that look up to these players. Kids who watch the coach on television, they look like most of the kids I know. It’s important. It really is. I hope the players understand how important this is to these kids. Them wearing his name takes it to a whole other level. That is something so different. I am just grateful.
“To me it’s not about Antwon. Antwon is gone, and I couldn’t save him. But if I could collaborate with the Pittsburgh Steelers and save one life, I am grateful.”