In a not-so-surprising turn of events, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva wrote the name “Alwyn Cashe” on his helmet on Monday night. The rest of the team had “Antwon Rose Jr.” on their helmets.

The Steelers, like many NFL teams, were recognizing victims of color that have been killed by the police. The NFL is allowing teams to wear helmet decals for the entire 2020 season, honoring those who have been killed. The Steelers decided as a team to honor Rose, a black teenager who was shot in the back by a white police officer in Pittsburgh in 2018 after he ran from a vehicle that was pulled over. A former East Pittsburgh officer was charged with Rose’s murder, but a jury found him not guilty in March 2019.

Villanueva’s helmet featuring Alwyn Cashe’s name. (Twitter)

Villanueva covered up Rose’s name and hand wrote Cashe’s name on the back of his helmet. Alwyn Cashe was an African-American soldier who died trying to save his fellow soldiers who were burning to death after an IED attack in Iraq in 2005. 

Cashe, an NCO in the 3rd Infantry Division, was on a combat patrol on October 17, 2005, in Samarra, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near the Bradley fighting vehicle carrying him and his fellow soldiers. Despite being on fire himself, Cashe repeatedly returned to the burning vehicle to rescue burning soldiers.

Cashe, 35 at the time, suffered fatal burns while trying to rescue his fellow soldiers. He died on November 8 of that year at the Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas. At the time, he was awarded a Silver Star Medal. Now Cashe is being considered for the Medal of Honor. 

Why aren’t Villanueva’s actions so surprising? Because he is a graduate of the U.S. military academy at West Point. He served in the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor in combat against the Taliban. 

Villanueva as a member of the Ranger Regiment during his Army career. (U.S. Army)

This isn’t the first time he’s broken with a “full team decision” for following his own beliefs. During the 2017 NFL season, the Steelers had announced that none of their players would come out of the locker room for the playing of the national anthem before a regularly scheduled game. At the time, Head coach Mike Tomlin said that while many players were taking a knee during the playing of the anthem to protest racial injustice, the Steelers would remain in the locker room to avoid making a statement. 

“Whatever we do, we’re going to do 100 percent. We’re going to do it together,” Tomlin had said at the time. But Villanueva had broken from that decision and had stood alone for the anthem outside the locker room at the entrance of Soldiers’ Field in Chicago.