Steelers president Art Rooney II says he is proud of the way his players have expressed themselves when it comes to issues of social justice and reform, despite some controversy over the team’s decision to honor police shooting victim Antwon Rose, Jr. on their helmets during their season opener on Monday night.
The Steelers announced before the game that the team would unanimously be supporting Rose, who was 17 when he was killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018.
But during the game, Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva chose to instead wear the name of late U.S. Army sergeant Alwyn Cashe, who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for heroism while serving in Iraq.
After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin said he was aware of Villanueva’s decision to break from the team’s choice, but captains Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward said on Wednesday that they were surprised.
“He did discuss that with me,” Tomlin said. “This is in line with everything we said about participating in elements of social justice this offseason. As an organization and myself as a head coach of an organization, we are going to support our players in however they choose to participate and express themselves or to not participate or not express themselves. As long as they do so thoughtfully and with class. And so that is a blanket approach that we have had.”
“I did not know about Al’s choice for the back of his helmet,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, it’s his choice. That’s the amazing thing about the country we live in. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”
Thursday, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said that he was acting on limited information when he made the decision to support Rose and that going forward, he will be making his own choice about what to put on the back of his helmet.
“I was unaware of the whole story surrounding his death and what transpired during the trial following the tragedy,” Pouncey said. “I should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety.”
The officer killed Rose, Michael Rosfeld, was charged with criminal homicide and later acquitted. Rosfeld said he considered Rose and two others in the vehicle to be suspects in a drive-by shooting that happened earlier that day. Fellow passenger Zaijuan Hester later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and four firearms charges in connection with that shooting.
Pouncey has a long history of working with law enforcement organizations, in his native Florida and in Pittsburgh.
On Thursday, Rooney reiterated Tomlin’s stance that the organization supports its players’ individualism and that the team will continue its effort to use its platform to enact social change.
“As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff members relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics,” Rooney wrote. “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 if individually we may say or do things that are not universally excepted. There will be uncomfortable conversations. But we will strive to be a force for unity in our efforts to support a more just society.
“With our support, our players have and will support our communities to address these issues with tangible actions. Our players have done an amazing job and helping create social justice platforms that we have already begun participating in this year. But we know there is still work to be done. This season our primary focus is in terms of social justice funds and activities will be voter registration and awareness, community and police forums, and education and community investment.
“I am proud of the way our players have responded to the need for greater efforts to bring awareness and changes to combat racism and social injustice. I know they will continue to be leaders in our communities and their hometowns.”
Zach Banner Announces Self-imposed Social Media Ban Until he Signs New Deal
Zach Banner is sending a clear message about his priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Banner, who is a free agent and looking for a new deal with the Steelers, tweeted that he is going to stay off social media until he officially signs on the dotted line.
Locking it down on social and media until my new contract is signed. 🤫🔒
Stay tuned… #HulkSmash
— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) February 28, 2021
Zach Banner has become a prominent member of the Steelers, but that’s not because he’s had success on the field over the past year. Banner’s success has come off the field by connecting with fans on social media and doing his part to help those in need than he has on a football field. But by no means is that Banner’s fault. He suffered a season ending torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season. This injury was especially devastating for the USC product because it occurred on the heels of Banner winning the starting right tackle position following a tough training camp battle with Chukwuma Okorafor.
Due to Banner’s injury, it was Okorafor who ended up starting 16 games, including the postseason. While Banner kept in good spirits and became his team’s loudest cheerleader on Twitter during games, it was clear he wanted to be on the field and contributing.
Earning a starting spot as a member of the Steelers offensive line was a major career achievement for Banner, but it was one he didn’t get to enjoy. Banner now hopes to return to Pittsburgh and be the missing piece the Steelers offensive line desperately needs.
Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp
There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.
“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”
Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.
NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North
It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.
But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.
NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2021
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”
Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.