On Monday Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva spoke publicly for the first time since he taped over the Antwon Rose Jr. decal on his helmet during the season opener against the New York Giants, replacing Rose’s name with that of Army veteran Alwyn Cashe.

Steelers LT Alejandro Villanueva has the name Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet

Cashe was posthumousky awarded the Silver Star for heroism after his death at 35 while on duty in Iraqhttps://t.co/a4Pbp3UERU had said ALL players’ helmets would have Antwon Rose Jr’s name pic.twitter.com/UMqbxVo6mj

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) September 14, 2020

“The decision had to do exclusively with Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe and his pursuit for the Medal of Honor, which is something he deserves and hopefully he’ll get soon,” said Villanueva, per ESPN staff writer Brooke Pryor.

Cashe passed away in November 2005 at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas after suffering severe burns while trying to rescue other soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq. He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his heroism and is now under consideration to receive the Medal of Honor, which would make him the first Black service member who served in Iraq or Afghanistan to be so honored.

“I felt that my decision to honor Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe was something that was very personal to me due to the fact that in the veteran community, there’s a strong push to get him a Medal of Honor, which is something that the community believes that he deserves,” added Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan. “I think that the timing was perfect due to the fact that it gave the lawmakers a little bit of momentum going forward.”


The Antwon Rose Jr. Helmet Decal Controversy

Villanueva did break with his teammates to do so, though he did get the permission of head coach Mike Tomlin to make the edit. On Monday September 14, the Steelers announced that all players would wear Antwon Rose Jr.’s name on their helmets for the 2020 season.

After Giants game, Steelers captains like Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward said they were unaware of Villanueva’s plans to change helmet decals. Antwon Rose Jr.’s mother also called out Villanueva for covering her son’s name.

Later that same week, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey came out and said he would make his “own decision” as to what he would wear on his helmet for the game against the Denver Broncos. Ultimately he decided to honor late police officer Eric Kelly, one of three officers killed in an April 2009 standoff.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Steelers players went on to wear a variety of helmet decals for the Broncos game, and some wore nothing on their helmets at all.


Alwyn C. Cashe and the Medal of Honor

As for the prospect of Cashe receiving the Medal of Honor, giving lawmakers “momentum” (as Villanueva puts it), may be important. Last month the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon was “poised” to honor Cashe, but it would require Congress to waive the five-year time limit from the date of a service member’s heroic actions and the award.

Similar waivers have been granted in the past, and if such a waiver is granted in this case, it would then be the President’s decision as to whether Cashe receives the distinction.

For his part, Villanueva—who appeared in a Memorial Day video this past spring—seems to wish he could do more to help veterans on an ongoing basis.

“The issues that matter to veterans are incredibly important,” he said. “I feel like I don’t do enough as an American every day to enjoy my liberties, and I feel very thankful to have the support of the veteran community and the background to appreciate the freedoms that we all enjoy.”

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