Former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva broke ranks on Sunday. Two of the team’s captains said Wednesday that they didn’t know he’d be doing it.
After the Steelers voted as a team to honor Antwon Rose II by placing his name on the rear bumper of every helmet, Villaneuva taped the handwritten name of Alwyn Cashe over Rose’s name on Villanueva’s helmet.
“I was surprised by what Al did,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said Wednesday, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, via Dulac. Both Heyward and Roethlisberger are among the team’s 2020 captains.
“Obviously, that’s his choice,” Roethlisberger added. “That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”
Heyward explained that the team had discussed their approach for the game and chose to honor Rose, who was shot and killed in 2018 by a Pittsburgh police officer. So the significance here isn’t just the gesture but the fact that Villanueva went against a team that typically moves in lockstep on any and all issues, including for example their unanimous “no” vote on the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The situation presents a curious intersection of individual liberties and there’s-no-I-in-team. Villanueva absolutely has the right to do what he wants to do when it comes to the name on the back of his helmet (the league may disagree with that, since Cashe’s name wasn’t on the approved list). However, the team collectively decided that all players would have Rose’s name on their helmets. Villanueva went rogue without telling anyone before doing so.
That’s the deeper question that could linger in the locker room, given that some will think that, at a minimum, Villanueva should have told someone that he planned to not go along with his teammates, and that failing to tell anyone that he wouldn’t be complying with the will of the team constitutes a slap in their face.