Steelers' Alejandro Villanueva says decal change 'exclusively' about veteran Alwyn Cashe

Cassandra Negley
·3 mins read

When Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva chose to cover up the name of Antwon Rose Jr. on the back of his helmet it was “exclusively,” he said, about honoring an Army veteran and trying to help him get a Medal of Honor.

The Steelers reportedly took a team vote to wear Rose’s name during their season opener to honor victims of systemic racism. Rose was 17 when he was killed by East Pittsburgh police. Villanueva covered it up with a piece of tape and put the name of Alwyn Cashe, a Black US Army sergeant who served in Iraq and died of injuries sustained there.

Villanueva spoke publicly for the first time on Monday about wearing Cashe’s name, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.

Villanueva helmet decal ‘exclusively’ about veteran

Alejandro Villanueva in a No. 78 jersey sits with teammates on the bench.
Alejandro Villanueva is pushing for a Black Iraq veteran to be awarded a Medal of Honor. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Villanueva, 32, is a former Army Ranger and served three tours in Afghanistan. After playing collegiately at Army, he spent 2010-2015 in the service before leaving and starting his NFL career.

He said the decal decision “had to do exclusively with Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe and his pursuit for the Medal of Honor, which is something that he deserves and hopefully he'll get soon.”

“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," Villanueva said, via ESPN. “I think that the timing was perfect due to the fact that it gave the lawmakers a little bit of momentum going forward. The family has been waiting for 15 years to hear something from his chain of command, from Congress regarding the exception of his five-year statutory limit that could potentially get him the Medal of Honor.”

Villanueva was the only Steelers player who did not wear Rose’s name on his helmet for the season opener. It drew pushback from Rose’s mother and others who viewed it as an affront to standing against police brutality.

Days later, center Maurkice Pouncey announced on Instagram he would also begin choosing his own decal, writing he was given “limited information on the situation” before the game. That angered Rose’s mother, who said she was disappointed Pouncey didn’t reach out to discuss the case.

Cashe in line for Medal of Honor

On Oct. 17, 2005, Cashe entered a burning building in Iraq to save fellow soldiers following an ambush. He suffered severe burns and died on Nov. 5, 2005, at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Cashe was 35.

He was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for heroism and is poised to become the first Black recipient of the award for valor in Iraq or Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper wrote to Congress last month that Cashe’s actions merit a Medal of Honor and it is now in the president’s hands to award one.

There is a five-year time limit to award the Medal of Honor from the date of the actions. Awarding of the medal will need a congressional waiver given the time that’s passed, hence Esper’s letter.

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