Pittsburgh Steelers center and co-captain Maurkice Pouncey announced that he would decide whose name is on the back of his helmet, not who the Steelers or the NFL tell him to honor. Pouncey is going against the league, which is honoring a victim of a police shooting, who was also reportedly involved in a drive-by shooting.
On Monday, the Steelers announced that every player would wear a helmet decal honoring Antwon Rose Jr.
"This year the NFL is allowing players to wear helmet decals to honor victims of systemic racism," the Steelers website stated. "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."
"On the night of June 19, 2018, the car Antwon Rose Jr., who is black, was a passenger in was pulled over by the East Pittsburgh Police," the website reads. "While the driver was being handcuffed on suspicion of being involved in an incident that happened earlier that evening, a frightened Rose fled from the car. The cell phone video a bystander captured showed Rose running, and then you could hear gunshots and see as he was fatally shot in the back three times by a white East Pittsburgh Police Officer."
The Steelers played the New York Giants on Monday night. The Pittsburgh players, including Pouncey, had the name "Antwon Rose Jr." on the back of their helmets. On Thursday, Pouncey announced that he regretted wearing the tribute and would not wear Antwon Rose's name on the back of his helmet for the rest of the 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," said Pouncey, who was named the Steelers' 2019 nominee as the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for "exceptional character and work off the football field." "I should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety."
"My work with the police, both in Pittsburgh and back home in Florida, is well documented," the Pittsburgh lineman said. "I don't always feel the need to highlight what I do with the police departments, but I also want to make sure they understand I inadvertently supported a cause of which I did not fully comprehend the entire background of the case. I take responsibility for not doing more investigating into something that is sensitive to the community and his family, but it is a lesson learned as it relates to political issues that occur every day in our society.
"Moving forward, I will make my own decision about what to wear on the back of my helmet," Pouncey continued. "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."
"My focus will continue to be on helping the police in our communities, and I will support making any necessary changes to help those efforts," the statement concluded.
The "whole story" that Pouncey is alluding to is that the Steelers did not mention that Rose was reportedly in a vehicle matching the description of a car that had been involved in a drive-by shooting that happened about 10 minutes before Rose was shot. Rose's friend, Zaijuan Hester, allegedly fired a gun from the rear passenger side of a gold Chevy Cruz, shooting Thomas Cole Jr. in the abdomen, and hitting William Ross in the leg with shrapnel, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Officer Michael Rosfeld pulled over the vehicle on suspicion of carrying out the drive-by shooting. A witness video of the incident shows Hester and Rose run away from the officer. Rosfeld fired three shots, all of them hit Rose; striking him in the face, elbow, and the back, according to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.
Rose was unarmed at the time of the shooting, according to police. Daniel Wolfe, a scientist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office, said gunshot residue was found on Rose's hand. But it could have come from Rosfeld's weapon.
There were two guns on the floor of the car. There was a 9 mm Glock 26 handgun with 16 rounds in the magazine that holds 17 rounds. The other gun was a .40-caliber Glock 22 with a live round in the chamber and an extended magazine with 18 rounds.
Rose had an empty 9 mm ammunition magazine in his pocket, which matched the 9 mm pistol in the car. Shell casings found at the scene of the drive-by shooting matched the .40-caliber Glock 22 pistol, according to police.
Hester, who was 17 at the time of the crime, pleaded guilty on March 15, 2019, to charges related to the drive-by shooting, including three counts of aggravated assault and four firearms charges. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped a charge of attempted homicide. Hester was sentenced to 6 to 22 years in prison.
Rosfeld testified that he thought one of the teens had turned and pointed a gun at him. On March 22, Rosfeld was acquitted by a jury and found not guilty of homicide charges in the death of Antwon Rose.
For the past three seasons, Pouncey donated Steelers tickets to the Pittsburgh police so they could take young people from city neighborhoods to football games and enjoy a pregame tailgate party. Pouncey hopes the experience can build trust between young people and police officers.
"I think sometimes the message gets blurred some with some of the incidents," Pouncey said. "The things we do in the community, and how Pittsburgh is, how involved they are in bringing up the youth and making sure everyone knows they do a lot of great things. To bring up the kids that way is awesome."
"This gives the kids a chance to see the police beyond the uniform," Pouncey added. "They are human. They are great people. They have kids and family members too. Just because they wear a badge you shouldn't look at them a certain way. They are a lot of great people that help with a lot of great causes."
Pouncey wasn't the only Pittsburgh player to object to honoring Antwon Rose Jr. on their helmet. Fellow Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva paid tribute to Alwyn Cashe, a U.S. Army sergeant who died while serving in Iraq in 2005.
Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva has the name Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet Cashe was posthumousky awarded… https://t.co/GSF4FEvSzn— Chris Adamski (@Chris Adamski) 1600127203.0
Cashe was in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Samarra, Iraq. He exited the vehicle with minor injuries, but when he saw there were injured soldiers in the burning vehicle, he went back to save them.
Cashe helped to rescue all six soldiers from the fiery vehicle and extracted the body of an interpreter killed by the IED. He was able to save the soldiers while under small arms fire. Cashe suffered severe burns on 72% of his body. He succumbed to his injuries and died on Nov. 8, 2005, at the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas. Cashe was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
The NFL has said that only pre-approved names could appear on helmets and would be reserved for victims of racial injustice. Cashe was not on the NFL's pre-approved list.
The mother of Antwon Rose, Michelle Kenney, criticized Villanueva for not wearing her son's name on his helmet.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers took a team vote. Obviously one person didn't like the results so they chose to do something different," Kenney wrote on Facebook. "I have nothing against vets and absolutely appreciate everything that they have done and continue to do for us. But this one person showed us exactly who he is and obviously he didn't approve of how the vote turned out."
In July, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt said that he would not be kneeling during the national anthem. "I'm not kneeling for the flag and screw anybody who have [sic] a problem with that," he said.