Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement Thursday that the team respects the decision of each individual member of the organization "relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics."
Rooney's statement came on the heels of the Steelers' team vote to honor Antwon Rose Jr., a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in 2018, on their helmets prior to Monday's season-opener against the New York Giants.
Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, instead hand wrote Alwyn Cashe's name on his helmet over Rose's. Cashe, a Black sergeant 1st Class in the U.S. Army, died 15 years ago in Iraq while attempting to rescue fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his service.
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey also announced Thursday that he planned to make his own decision on what name to have on his helmet this season.
"I want to personally clarify what transpired this past Monday night in regard to having Antwon Rose's name on the back of my helmet," Pouncey wrote on Instagram. "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. I should have done more research to fully understand what occurred in its entirety."
Rose died in June 2018 after being shot in the back, arm and side of the face by East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld. Rosfeld was charged with homicide but acquitted in March 2019.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters earlier this week that Villanueva informed him before the game of his plans to honor Cashe and that he supports his players' decisions.
The NFL informed teams this summer that players would be permitted to wear helmet decals recognizing those impacted by systemic racism and police brutality throughout the 2020 season.
"As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics. 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," Rooney said.
"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."
In his statement on social media, Pouncey also highlighted the work he does off the field with police departments in Pittsburgh and his homestate of Florida.
"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," Pouncey wrote. "Systemic racism issues have occurred in our country for too long, and that needs to stop."
Below is Rooney's full statement from Thursday:
"As an organization, we respect the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics. 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.
"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 in 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 focuses 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.