Pittsburgh Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey also breaking from team choice for name on helmet

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers captain Maurkice Pouncey on Thursday announced his intention to make his own choice about what name to put on the back of his helmet, becoming the second player to break from the team's decision to wear the name of police shooting victim Antwon Rose Jr. on helmets for the 2020 season.

"I was given limited information on the situation regarding Antwon, and I was unaware of the whole story surrounding his death and what transpired during the trial following the tragedy," Pouncey, a vocal advocate for the police communities in Pittsburgh and in his Florida hometown, wrote in an Instagram post. "I should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety.

"... Make no mistake, I am against racism and I believe the best thing I can do is to continue helping repair relationships between the police and their communities."

View this post on Instagram

@pghpolicechief @pghpolice @northmiamipd @lakelandpd

A post shared by Maurkice Pouncey (@maurkicepouncey) on

Pouncey was not made available by the team Thursday to further discuss his social media statement.

Steelers cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick on Thursday said players "talked briefly" about the helmets and a name, but the decision to put Rose's name on the helmets was "mostly made by everyone upstairs" and not through a team vote.

"It was mostly made from people upstairs and everything else like that," Fitzpatrick said Thursday. "Don't know exactly who. Don't know exactly how. But we did. We knew that we were going to have somebody on the back of our helmets, and it wasn't exactly clear on what it was going to be. It was mostly made by everyone upstairs."

Steelers president Art Rooney II on Thursday issued a statement saying the team respects individual decisions made concerning social justice initiatives.

"As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics," Rooney said in the statement. "We will continue to support our social initiatives to fight against social injustice and systemic racism not only in our area, but around the country.

"Along the way, we understand that individually we may say or do things that are not universally accepted. There will be uncomfortable conversations. But we will strive to be a force for unity in our efforts to support a more just society."

Rose, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by East Pittsburgh police in 2018 after the car he was riding in with other teenagers matched the description of one involved in a drive-by shooting.

Officer Michael Rosfeld ran after Rose, one of two passengers who fled the car, and shot him three times in his back, face and elbow. Rosfeld, who had been on the force for just three weeks, was charged with criminal homicide but was acquitted of all charges. During the trial, Rosfeld said he thought he saw one of the two teenagers point a gun at him, but he didn't know which one.

The shooting was captured on video and sparked some protests in the region. Rose's name has continued to be a rallying cry used by protesters in demonstrations.

The family reached a $2 million settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the borough of East Pittsburgh and Rosfeld in 2019.

Prior to Monday's season opener, the Steelers talked about presenting a united front with each player wearing Rose's name on the back of his helmet for the entire season. However, offensive lineman Al Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, decided to use the name of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, a Black soldier who was killed on duty in Iraq and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for heroism.

Villanueva told coach Mike Tomlin that he was changing the name, but his decision surprised some teammates, including defensive captain Cam Heyward.

"I was surprised by what Al did," Heyward said Wednesday. "You'll have to talk to him in the future, but in this country, we're given the freedom to do and support those that mean a lot to us."

Though not everyone on the team has agreed with the decision to wear Rose's name on the helmets, Fitzpatrick said that everyone is still unified on the field.

"I don't think there's any cohesion issues," Fitzpatrick said. "We're all grown men. We all have one goal, and that's to win a Super Bowl.

"... It does mean a lot to pretty much all of us in the locker room, but we're going to put our opinions to the side and go out there and we're going to have our conversations and talks in the locker room. But when we go out on the field, when we take the field, we're going to put our opinions, our feelings and everything else to the side and be grown men about the situation and move forward."