PITTSBURGH — Steelers captain Maurkice Pouncey on Thursday announced his intention to make his own choice about what name to put on the back of his helmet, becoming the second player to break from the team’s decision to wear the name of police shooting victim Antwon Rose Jr. on helmets for the 2020 season.
“I was given limited information on the situation regarding Antwon, and I was unaware of the whole story surrounding his death and what transpired during the trial following the tragedy,” Pouncey, a vocal advocate for the police communities in Pittsburgh and in his hometown, wrote in an Instagram post. “I should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety.
“… Make no mistake, I am against racism and I believe the best thing I can do is to continue helping repair relationships between the police and their communities.”
Pouncey was not made available by the team prior to Thursday’s practice to further clarify his social media statement.
Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement saying the team respects individual decisions made concerning social justice initiatives.
“As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics,” Rooney said in the statement. “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.
“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 for unity in our efforts to support a more just society.”
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 17, 2020
Rose, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by East Pittsburgh police in 2018 after the car he was riding in with other teenagers matched the description of one involved in a drive-by shooting.
Officer Michael Rosfeld ran after Rose, one of two passengers who fled the car, and shot him three times in his back, face and elbow. Rosfeld, who had been on the force for just three weeks, was charged with criminal homicide but was acquitted of all charges. During the trial, Rosfeld said he thought he saw one of the two teenagers point a gun at him, but he didn’t know which one.
The shooting was captured on video and sparked some protests in the region. Rose’s name has continued to be a rallying cry used by protestors in demonstrations.
The family reached a $2 million settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the borough of East Pittsburgh and Rosfeld in 2019.
Prior to Monday’s season opener, the Steelers talked about presenting a united front with each player wearing Rose’s name on the back of their helmets for the entire season. However, offensive lineman Al Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, changed Rose’s name to that of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier who was killed on duty in Iraq and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for heroism.
Villanueva told coach Mike Tomlin that he was changing the name, but his decision surprised some teammates, including defensive captain Cam Heyward.
“I was surprised by what Al did,” Heyward said Wednesday. “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.”