Events following Villanueva stepping out from his teammates spiraled from there. Media attention focused on his actions and Cashe’s story, and any attention towards Rose was cast aside, even though the original purpose of the Steelers helmet decal was to honor Rose, who was shot and killed by East Pittsburgh police in 2018, when Rose was fleeing the scene. It was all part of the NFL’s "End Racism" campaign.
But instead, racist attacks against Rose started to proliferate on social media and eventually users even edited Rose’s Wikipedia page with outdated information and false smears like calling him a “criminal.”
Villanueva was not punished or scolded for his action going against the Steelers' decision to honor Rose. Coach Mike Tomlin said he gave Villanueva permission to wear Cashe's name, though his decision still caught his teammates off guard.
“As an organization, and myself as head coach of the organization, we’re 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 thoughtfully and with class," Tomlin said in a press conference on Sept. 15.
Then, a couple of days later, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey announced that he did not support wearing Rose’s name on his helmet, saying that he was given incomplete information about a highly publicized story that is more than two years old, and that he wasn’t “aware of the whole story.”
But that didn’t stop users from editing Rose’s Wikipedia page in the aftermath of Villanueva’s and Pouncey’s actions. On Sept. 16, one user edited Rose’s page to say that Rose “fled officers attempting to apprehend him after the shooting, stashing a weapon under his seat. Gunshot residue was later found on his hand.” This edit implying that Rose was the shooter in a drive-by shooting that occurred on June 19, 2018 shortly before Rose was shot by police is false.
In March 2019, Zaijuan Hester pled guilty to the shooting and confessed that he was the shooter in the drive-by. Video evidence backed up Hester's account, which shows shots fired from the back seat of the car, while Rose was in the front passenger seat. (A ride-hail driver was driving the car). Even before this in June 2018, Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala said, “By all accounts, Mr. Rose never did anything in furtherance of the crimes in North Braddock.”
People are currently editing Antwon Rose's @Wikipedia page with incomplete reports implying falsely Rose carried out earlier drive-by shooting. Zaijuan Hester pleaded guilty to the drive-by shooting, and video evidence backs up Hester's confession. pic.twitter.com/l8W842LUve— Ryan Deto (@RyanDeto) September 17, 2020
Even so, that false edit was up on Wikipedia for more than 13 hours, before another editor removed it. (Wikipedia is edited by users only, and basically anybody can edit any page.) As of print, Rose’s Wikipedia page still includes a sentence about how a testimony that was given before the video evidence that shows Hester shooting a gun from the back seat, "contradicts the video evidence."
On Sept. 16, after that false implication about Rose was removed by editors, another editor added the words “criminal” to Rose’s bio section. This edit was removed promptly.
The Steelers did not respond to a request for comment about Rose’s Wikipedia page being edited. Yesterday, Team President Art Rooney II made a statement addressing the fallout that has occurred since Villanueva’s action. Rooney claimed that the Steelers players “have done an amazing job in helping create social justice platforms” and noted that the team's social-justice funds and activity will be focused on voter registration, education, community investment, and community and police forums.
“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,” said Rooney in a statement. “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.”
Additionally, yesterday a January 2019 story about Rose was the top trending story on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s website. The story includes information about gun-power residue on Rose’s hands and how he had an empty gun clip in his pocket. But the March 2019 story about Hester’s confession was not trending on P-G’s website.
False smears against Rose are nothing new. In 2018, KDKA and WPXI ran a story from an anonymous source falsely claiming that Rose was the shooter. The TV stations eventually took down the post, but not before it was shared thousands of times on social media. They were condemned by county officials.
Look at what Villanueva, Pouncey, and the Pittsburgh media outlets that breathed life into divisiveness those two concocted that led to attacks on Antwon Rose II, who died two year ago.— Ryan Deto (@RyanDeto) September 17, 2020
Surely his family is forced to live through this pain once again. pic.twitter.com/RS1Yc0MdJp
Michelle Kenney, Rose’s mother, was disappointed in Villanueva’s decision to break from the team’s decision to honor her son. At least one Steelers player has claimed that players didn’t vote on the decision to honor Rose, and that management made the decision; other players have disputed this claim, and said the team decided on the action.
Kenney also criticized Pouncey for not reaching out to her before he made his statement denouncing the decision to honor Rose.
"I'm definitely with him that we need to make some changes so that we can establish better relationships between the police and the communities, but there's work to be done,” Kenney told ESPN. “I would have much rather he reached out to me and said, 'Ms. Kenney, I'm questioning my decision on wearing Antwon's name. I'm choosing not to do it, but how can we move forward?'"
The Steelers will wear helmets with Rose's name for the entire season.