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Army Ranger NFL player puts war hero’s name on his helmet

Alejandro Villanueva. (Jeffrey Beall, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
September 16, 2020

Pittsburgh Steelers’ left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is honoring U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe — who died saving his fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq — by wearing Cashe’s name on his football helmet.

Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, decided to wear Cashe’s name as the team played Monday night, CBS Sports reported. On Oct. 17, 2005, Cashe’s vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Samara, Iraq. Cashe was not injured in the initial blast, but he braved enemy fire to return to the burning vehicle to rescue six soldiers, accumulating second- and third-degree burns across 70 percent of his body. He died from his injuries 22 days after the attack.

Cashe has been considered in recent weeks as a potential recipient of the Medal of Honor. Defense Secretary Mark Esper endorsed the idea of honoring Cashe with the nation’s highest military decoration. If Congress changes the five-year statute of limitations on awarding a Medal of Honor, Cashe could be the first black war on terror vet to receive the honor.

The rest of the Steelers players chose to adorn their helmets with the name of Antwon Rose Jr., a black East Pittsburgh teenager killed by police in 2018 after fleeing the scene of a drive-by shooting. The team made the decision to bear Rose’s name together for the duration of the 2020 NFL season.

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Many NFL teams have elected in 2020 to wear the names of black men who have been killed in interactions with police.

Villanueva’s decision to honor Cashe over Rose comes two years after he chose to stand for the playing of the national anthem while the rest of his team elected to stay off the field to avoid making a statement one way or the other in regards to anthem protests that had become popular throughout the NFL. At the time, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he was expecting 100 percent participation from the team in the decision to stay off the field during the anthem.

Villanueva later apologized for the move, saying, “Unfortunately, I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally. Every single time I see that picture of me, standing by myself, I feel embarrassed. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault, and my fault only.”

Tomlin, in a Tuesday press conference, said he approved of Villanueva’s break with the rest of the team in this instance.

“As an organization, and myself as the head coach of the organization, we’re going to support our players however they chose to participate and express themselves, or to not participate or not express themselves, as long as they do so thoughtfully and with class,” Tomlin said at a press conference.

Tomlin added Villanueva’s latest decision didn’t need an explanation.