Wilfried Zaha has reiterated his belief that taking a knee is “degrading” and has demanded players “stand tall” in the fight against racism.
Since Project Restart last summer, players, officials and staff at Premier League and EFL games have been taking a knee before kick-off to show support for the movement for racial equality.
Premier League clubs’ shirts also carried the Black Lives Matter slogan during the restarted 2019-20 season before being changed for this season to feature a patch promoting the league’s own anti-discrimination campaign No Room For Racism.
England manager Gareth Southgate believes the gesture is still hugely powerful and has not lost its message, but racist abuse of footballers on social media has been prevalent in recent weeks with several teams, including Brentford last weekend, stopping taking a knee.
Crystal Palace winger Zaha, speaking at the 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.
“Because I feel like taking the knee now, it’s becoming… we do it before games and even sometimes people forget that we have to do it before games.
“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 isolating ourselves, 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 and now I don’t really tend to speak on racism and stuff like that because I’m not here just to tick boxes.”
He added: “Unless action is going to happen, don’t speak to me about it.”
Zaha urges more players to be like Rashford
While Zaha has not been as vocal on certain issues as other top-flight footballers such as Marcus Rashford, he believes he has a role to play to try and make a change.
He added: “I’m not really an activist but if I’ve got a platform to try and make a change, why not?
“No matter how small my platform is compared to other people, I don’t see why I would not say anything on something that means a lot to me and means a lot to other people so it’s a thing where I feel like I have a duty to do what I can really.
“Marcus Rashford, he’s got his platform there and he’s pushed through to make things happen and some people just tell him to stick to football and stuff, but how can you say that if he’s probably feeding your child?
“So obviously certain footballers will just play football and go home, but I feel like with the opportunity you have to broaden your horizon and do more, you only live once, why not? Then, if you can inspire people at the same time you’re doing it – it’s a win-win.”
Following Brentford’s decision to stop making the anti-racism gesture before games, Bees striker Ivan Toney believes players are being “used as puppets” in taking a knee.
The Championship’s top scorer with 24 goals says the gesture is allowing “people at the top” to rest on the subject and nothing has changed as a result.
“We have had a long discussion about that; why we are not taking a knee,” he told Sky Sports. “Everyone has had their say, and everyone agrees [that] we have been taking the knee for however long now and still nothing has changed.
“We are kind of being used as puppets, in my eyes; take the knee and the people at the top can rest for a while now, which is pretty silly and pretty pointless. Nothing is changing.
“The punishments need to be stronger. You’re going to do so much and, in a way, you have to get that helping hand, but it doesn’t look like it’s coming at the moment. So you have to push for that and hopefully things change.”