The decision by the Pittsburgh Steelers to honor a teen fatally shot by a police officer and allegedly involved in a drive-by shooting appears to have created disruption and controversy.
Two Steelers players have already declared that they will not pay tribute to the Antwon Rose Jr., and now another Pittsburgh player revealed that management decided who the players would honor on their helmet. Previously, the team said that players and coaches were united on the name that would be written on the back of helmets, but it seems that might not have been the case.
During a Zoom call with media on Thursday, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was asked about the team's decision to use helmets to deliver social justice signaling. Fitzpatrick said that the decision to honor Rose came from the Steelers' front office and not players.
"It was made from people upstairs and everything else like that," Fitzpatrick said in the interview. "Don't know exactly who. Don't know exactly how. But we did. We knew that we were going to have somebody on the back of our helmets, and it wasn't exactly clear on what it was going to be. It was mostly made by everyone upstairs."
This contradicts what the Steelers said earlier this week about the helmet gesture.
"This year the NFL is allowing players to wear helmet decals to honor victims of systemic racism," the Steelers website stated on Monday. "Players could select the name of an individual to wear on their helmet and the Steelers players and coaches united as one to wear a single name on the back of their helmets and hats for the entire 2020 season — Antwon Rose Jr."
When the Steelers played the New York Giants on Monday night, the players had the name "Antwon Rose Jr." on the back of their helmets. All the Steelers had Rose's name on their helmets except for Pittsburgh offensive lineman and West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva. He decided to honor the late Alwyn Cashe, a soldier who saved fellow servicemen and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star Medal, the third-highest award for valor in combat.
On Thursday, Steelers center and co-captain Maurkice Pouncey announced that he would not be wearing Rose's name on his helmet this 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 said. "I should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety.
"Moving forward, I will make my own decision about what to wear on the back of my helmet," Pouncey added. "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. Systemic racism issues have occurred in our country for too long, and that needs to stop."
Rose was reportedly involved in a drive-by shooting in 2018. Then-17-year-old Rose and his friend Zaijuan Hester were pulled over because they were in a vehicle that matched the description of a car that was used in a drive-by shooting that injured two people minutes earlier.
The two teens fled after they were pulled over by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld. The officer shot Rose three times. Rose died from the gunshot injuries.
Hester pleaded guilty to charges related to the drive-by shooting, and was sentenced to 6 to 22 years in prison. Rosfeld was acquitted by a jury and found not guilty of homicide charges in the death of Rose.