Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha has become the first Premier League player to not take a knee before a game since the demonstration began last season, standing during the prematch ritual against West Brom on Saturday.
Players and officials have been taking a knee before games since protests began after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May 2020.
“My decision to stand at kick-off has been public knowledge for a couple of weeks now,” Zaha said in a statement via his management team Rocnation. “There is no right or wrong decision, but for me personally I feel kneeling has just become a part of the prematch routine and 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 a change, and I fully respect that, and everyone involved. I also fully respect my teammates 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 had previously said taking a knee before every game is “degrading” and called for a tangible change instead of being used to “tick boxes.”
Wilfried Zaha has called for greater efforts towards education on racial inequality and says social media companies should start taking "strong action" over racism.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) March 13, 2021
“The whole kneeling down — why must I kneel down for you to show that we matter,” he told the “On The Judy” podcast. “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.”
The Ivory Coast international came up through Palace’s academy and has spent 11 seasons of his senior career with them. He is not expected to face punishment.
Premier League CEO Richard Masters said earlier Saturday that players would continue to take a knee before games until the end of the season.
“It is a big statement, it was player-led. We spent a lot of time talking to players. It was an emotional time during the pandemic,” Masters told Sky Sports.
“Going back to Project Restart, when we were talking to players, they wanted to make a statement about their thanks to the NHS and key workers and to make a stand against the events in America last summer.
“We were happy to support the players. Perhaps for the first time, we had the Premier League, clubs and players on the same page on an important issue.
Palace beat West Brom 1-0 thanks to a first-half penalty by Luka Milivojevic.