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An offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers elected not to display the name of a man killed by police on his helmet during Monday Night Football and instead scrawled the name of a soldier killed during a 2005 battle in Iraq.
Alejandro Villanueva, a former U.S. Army Ranger officer and multi-tour combat vet, replaced the name of Antwon Rose Jr. with Alwyn Cashe, a black Army sergeant first class who died following an attempt to rescue fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle.
The vehicle had struck a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) in Samarra, Iraq, on Oct. 17, 2005. Cashe suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body; he died from those wounds Nov. 5.
According to an Associated Press story at the time, Cashe told his parents before he deployed he would never leave any of his fellow soldiers behind.
“I told him, ‘Don’t go over there playing a hero. You learn how to duck and come home,”’ said his sister, Kasinal Cashe White, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “He said, ‘I’m doing the job I was trained to do. I have to take care of my boys.”’
Cashe was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism posthumously.
The Steelers, as a team, had made the decision before their Monday contest against the New York Giants to display the name Rose on their helmets, but Villanueva, a West Point grad, chose Cache instead, becoming the only player to deviate from the plan, FOX26 reported.
According to online reports, Rose, 17, was shot and killed in East Pittsburgh by police in 2018 as he tried to flee the scene following a drive-by shooting. Though he was unarmed at the time he was shot, forensic evidence introduced at a subsequent trial for another man linked to the drive-by indicated that Rose’s DNA was on a handgun used in the incident police later found underneath the passenger seat where he was sitting.
Another person in the vehicle at the time also shot at the victim, William Ross, who told police that Rose was the one whose bullets struck him.
Also, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office said police found an empty magazine to a 9mm handgun in Rose’s pocket that matched a handgun found under his seat. Forensic examiners also said that gunpowder residue was on one of Rose’s hands.
“This year the NFL is allowing players to wear helmet decals to honor victims of systemic racism. 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.,” the Steelers said on the team website Monday.
Cashe was 35 when he died. Also killed in the attack were: Staff Sgt. George Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen Texas; Sgt. Michael Robertson, 28, of Houston; and Spc. Darren Howe, 21, of Beatrice, Neb.
This isn’t the first time Villanueva, who served three combat tours, has defied his team over a ‘social justice’ demonstration. He remained outside with his hand over his heart during the playing of the National Anthem before a September 2017 game while the rest of his team remained in the locker room.
He would later apologize for the incident, explaining that he was left there alone as part of a botched plan that was supposed to include quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the team’s captains.
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