Pittsburgh Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II released a statement through the team’s website on Thursday, emphasizing his support for his players, coaches and staff as they find new ways to express themselves about social justice issues.
This statement comes one day after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, defensive tackle and team captain Cameron Heyward and head coach Mike Tomlin publicly spoke about offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva’s decision to tape over the name of police shooting victim Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of his helmet on Sunday.
“As an organization, we respect the decision of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics. 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.
“With our support, our players have and will support our communities to address these issues with tangible actions. Our players have done an amazing job in helping create social justice platforms that we have already begun participating in this year. But we know there is still work to be done. This season our primary focuses in terms of social justice funds and activities will be voter registration and awareness, community and police forums, and education and community investment.
“I am proud of the way our players have responded to the need for greater efforts to bring awareness and changes to combat racism and social injustice. I know they will continue to be leaders in our communities and their hometowns.”
Rooney doesn’t directly mention the helmet controversy in his comments, but starting with “we respect the decision of each player” makes it pretty clear what he’s talking about. Villanueva made his own decision to tape over Rose’s name and replace it with another, and Rooney supports that.
Rose, a young Black man who was shot in the back by Pittsburgh police as he fled a traffic stop, was the name the team voted to place on the backs of their helmets this season as part of the NFL’s decision to allow teams to honor the victims of systemic racism. Instead, Villanueva decided to tape over Rose’s name and replace it with the name of Alwyn Cashe, a Black Army sergeant who died from wounds he sustained while serving in Afghanistan.
Roethlisberger and Heyward were unaware that Villanueva would be taping over Rose’s name, but both said it was his choice to do so. Tomlin told reporters on Wednesday that Villanueva had told him about his plan in advance, and he felt that Villanueva was expressing himself in line with the organization’s values.
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