Wilfried Zaha became the Premier League’s first player to stop taking the knee before kick-off yesterday, with the Crystal Palace winger having declared the act ‘degrading’.
Zaha was making his first start since February and while the rest of his Palace team-mates knelt, he followed up on his promise to ‘stand tall’. The 28-year-old instead stood with his arms behind his back.
Every West Brom player took the knee, a gesture which has been happening before games since June. Zaha explained: ‘There is no right or wrong decision, but, personally, I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine.
Wilfried Zaha has become the first Premier League player not to take a knee before a fixture
The Crystal Palace man was at the forefront of the camera shot during the gesture on Saturday
‘At the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse.
‘I know there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes at the Premier League and other authorities to make change and I fully respect that. I also fully respect my team-mates and players at other clubs who continue to take the knee.
‘As a society, I feel we should be encouraging better education in schools and social media companies should be taking stronger action against people who abuse others online — not just footballers. I now just want to focus on football and enjoy being back playing on the pitch. I will continue to stand tall.’
Zaha (right) had been taking a knee before top-flight ties but felt the gesture has lost its value
Speaking on the On the Judy podcast, Zaha said: ‘The whole kneeling down – why must I kneel down for you to show that we matter? Why must I even wear Black Lives Matter on the back of my top to show you that we matter? This is all degrading stuff.
‘When people constantly want to get me to do Black Lives Matter talks and racial talks and I’m like, I’m not doing it just so you can put ‘Zaha spoke for us’. Like a tick box, basically.
‘I’m not doing any more, because unless things change. I’m not coming to chat to you just for the sake of it, like all the interviews I’ve done. All these platforms – you see what’s happening, you see people making fake accounts to abuse black people constantly, but you don’t change it.
‘So don’t tell me to come and chat about stuff that’s not going to change. Change it. All that stuff that you lot are doing, all these charades mean nothing.’
Central to Zaha’s frustration is not the meaning of the gestures themselves – he has been left frustrated at interpretations that he is against the Black Lives Matter movement – but that some consider them alone enough in the fight against racism, leading to his calls for much greater action.
Sky Sports’ co-commentator, Efan Ekoku, was asked for his opinion on Zaha’s stance after the Palace forward remained standing.
‘It’s his own personal choice,’ Ekoku said. ‘I for one applaud him that he’s voiced his opinion quite forcefully in recent weeks. I’m 100 per cent behind him.’
He then tweeted at full-time: ‘Full respect to Wilfried Zaha for showing the way by not taking “the knee” at Selhurst today.
‘It served its purpose, about time for affirmative action, social media companies take note and ban the faceless abusers online…it would be a start!’
Bill Leslie, who was also voicing the fixture live for Sky, added: ‘We all remember the power of the gesture, don’t we? It was the first game after the restart when the players first took the knee.
‘Some would argue that it’s not quite got the same impact now. I’m sure the players will review it in the summer. The Premier League have said as much. We know that everyone will applaud the initiative and is united behind it.’
As well as speaking on Sky Sports, Efan Ekoku took to Twitter to back Zaha for his decision
The winger has the support of Crystal Palace bosses, however he plans to proceed from here
During BBC Sport’s coverage of the afternoon’s games on Final Score, Dion Dublin and Alex Scott provided their own insight into the debate.
Dublin insisted he believes taking a knee is ‘still the way to go’, but admitted Zaha will be unable to single-handedly change thoughts on colour, race and discrimination.
‘I understand what he’s trying to say,’ he added. ‘I’m always, always going to back what Wilf is thinking when it comes to the race issue, because we all, black people, stick together.
‘I just think, get the collective to do it. It’s a stronger message. At the moment, the collective is taking a knee, it’s a stronger message.’
Echoing Dublin’s sentiments, Scott emphasised the importance of changing the perception around the issue at an early age.
She said: ‘My thing is, I don’t ever want to see any player ever taking a knee because they feel pressured or because they have to. You want it to be for the right reason.
Brentford are one of several Championship clubs to have stopped the gesture before games
‘Like Dion said, everyone is in it together to create change.
‘What this has done, and continues to do, is cause a conversation with young kids that see their football idols taking a knee, and them raising a question to their parents as to why.
‘It opens up that conversation to make that change. For me, it is still making a difference. Wilf has his reasons, and we have to respect that as well.’
A number of social media users have also posted their opinions this afternoon.
One person said: ‘I respect this still. It’s gonna (sic) lost its meaning if it’s gonna (sic) carry on happening every game.’
‘Fair enough tbh,’ another added. ‘Served its purpose and lost its meaning now, I think.’
A third believes taking a knee has become ‘absolutely pointless’.
They wrote: ‘Just doing it because it’s now the done thing. Any racism is totally unacceptable, but thus (sic) kneeling nonsense needs to stop.’
A fourth individual warned that some people may be using the stand from Zaha to ‘push their racist agenda’, however.
Prior to the game against Tottenham, Crystal Palace gave their support to Zaha in whatever stance he takes with regards to taking a knee and carrying slogans on his match shirt.
Outside of the Premier League several clubs, including Brentford last month, have stopped making the gesture.
Brentford said in a statement that players decided to stop taking a knee as they ‘no longer feel that it is making an impact’.
It has been an issue that Zaha has spoken openly about on more than one occasion.
Zaha is frustrated at the notion that simply taking a knee is alone in the fight against racism
While he was acting alone on Saturday afternoon prior to Crystal Palace’s game against West Brom, he wants his peers to join him in shunning taking a knee.
Zaha, speaking at February’s Financial Times’ Business of Football summit, said: ‘I’ve said before that I feel like taking the knee is degrading and stuff because growing up my parents just let me know that I should be proud to be black no matter what and I feel like we should just stand tall.
‘Trying to get the meaning behind it, it’s becoming something that we just do now and that’s not enough for me.
‘I’m not going to take the knee, I’m not going to wear Black Lives Matter on the back of my shirt because it feels like it’s a target. We’re trying to say that we’re equal but we’re isolating ourselves with these things that aren’t even working anyway, so that’s my stand on it.
‘I feel like we should stand tall. Now I don’t really tend to speak on racism and stuff like that because I’m not here just to tick boxes. Unless action is going to happen, don’t speak to me about it.’
Despite criticisms of the ‘charade’ from Zaha, Premier League CEO Richard Masters confirmed that players will continue to kneel in protest against racism before matches until at least the end of the 2020-21 season.
Players have been taking a knee since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year and Masters has revealed that discussions are being held about extending the gesture prior to the 2021-22 campaign.
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo pleaded that it is unrealistic to see an immediate impact from the gesture as he encouraged players to continue to unify and take a knee before matches
‘Anti-discrimination is something we are really committed to,’ Masters told Sky Sports. ‘Last week we announced our ‘No Room for Racism‘ action plan. Unfortunately, we have had to take on the social media companies with regards to online abuse.
‘You will see for the rest of this season more anti-racism messages on player’s shirts and the continuation of taking the knee until the end of the season.
‘It has never been an instruction, it has always been a personal choice. We have had remarkable unanimity up to this point and I expect that to continue.
‘We will discuss with the players in the close season what we are going to do to continue to make our feelings clear about anti-discrimination messaging going forward.’
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo took a different view to Zaha as he encouraged players to continue taking the knee, believing that it is unrealistic to expect an immediate impact from doing so.
Santo, the only BAME manager operating in the top division, produced an impassioned defence.
‘I will continue to do it,’ he said. ‘I will continue to do it because it is a way to show my position and my idea on it, and if one day I will do it by myself, if they give me the chance, I will do it.
‘We cannot give up. The results don’t come immediately but you cannot give up. It’s a long, long battle that we have to do. We cannot give up even if the impact is not immediate.
‘Through time we will reach it.’
Chelsea defender Reece James, pictured in action against Everton, has deleted his Instagram
The England star shared a selection of the racist messages he received earlier this season
There have been a number of instances this season where Premier League players have been targeted by vile abuse on social media after matches.
Chelsea defender Reece James has since deleted his Instagram account, almost six weeks after sharing some of the disgusting racist abuse he received online.
The England star posted a screenshot of the abusive messages he received back on January 29, writing ‘Something needs to change!’ alongside the image.
In a series of direct messages on Instagram, James was called a ‘monkey’ and asked how he could live with ‘f****** dirty black skin’.
In February, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wrote to every player to tell them that he was ‘appalled’ at the abuse suffered by James. He also pledged to provide additional funding for the club’s anti-racism efforts.
Abramovich wrote: ‘I am appalled by the racist abuse targeted at Reece on social media. Racism has no place in our club nor in our society. Our club is committed to fighting racism, antisemitism and all forms of discrimination.
‘It shocks me that only days after we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day, we as a society do not seem to have learned the lessons of our shared past and the consequences that hate and discrimination can have.
James tweeted: ‘No room for RACISM’ after highlighting the abuse he had received online
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wrote to every Chelsea player after James was abused
Abramovich said he was ‘appalled’ at the abuse of James in a letter and pledged his support
‘We cannot allow this to continue unchecked. I have therefore directed the board to further increase the club’s efforts in this area and I will personally direct more funds towards this important work.’
James is not the only player to be targeted by racist trolls online this season, with Manchester United trio Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe among those to have been abused on social media.
Earlier this year, Sportsmail revealed that English football is challenging social media companies to prove they are serious about protecting players from sickening online abuse.
English football’s key stakeholders are lobbying companies such as Twitter and Instagram to implement greater self-governance with regards to online abuse — in particular ensuring all accounts are verified so anyone guilty is identifiable.
Led by the chair of the FA’s inclusion advisory board Paul Elliott, representatives from the governing body – and England stars Jordan Henderson and Tyrone Mings – held talks with Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden and senior minister Nigel Huddleston about discrimination in football earlier this year.