It is now nearly a year since the Premier League returned to action in ‘Project Restart’, an ambitious challenge to get football started again amid an evolving landscape during the coronavirus pandemic.
With the country still in lockdown, Premier League players knew that they were in a prime position to voice in no uncertain terms their opposition to one event in particular that was causing a profound effect around the world.
The death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the end of May 2020 brought worldwide attention after he was killed by a police officer in broad daylight, with a member of the public recording the act on their phone.
The shocking events in America brought memorials, outrage and protests; enough was enough. The Black Lives Matter movement was born, seeking to ensure that the death of yet another black man at the hands of law enforcement would not be tolerated.
With every game broadcast live on television due to the absence of fans at the games, all eyes were on the players, and they knew there was work to be done.
Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic holds a place in the Premier League captains WhatsApp group, with Jordan Henderson and Troy Deeney known to be prominent in discussions around the restart, and in particular what the players’ response should be with regard to ongoing worldwide protests against racism.
The league’s 20 captains regularly communicated via Zoom calls amid a desire to show solidarity, with the Black Lives Matter slogan printed on players’ shirts and players deciding to take the knee before matches – a symbolic gesture to show support for the fight against discrimination that has continued to this day.
The gesture has been near-universally backed in the Premier League, though one person who no longer participates in the display is of course Palace’s own Wilfried Zaha.
This is not a criticism of players or of the Black Lives Matter movement, as some would like to claim in bad faith. Zaha has been particularly targeted by abuse in the last year, with one notable incident seeing a 12-year-old arrested over messages sent to him on social media.
Ahead of his decision to stand for the first time during the ritual, Zaha said: “there is no right or wrong decision, but me personally I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match 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 change, and I fully respect that, and everyone involved. 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.”
Zaha’s stance was backed by manager Roy Hodgson, who said he hoped the Palace star’s action would help encourage more players to use their “powerful voices” for good.
“[Racial abuse of footballers has] been a social problem for as long as I can remember,” Hodgson said. “The good thing is that there’s never perhaps been more highlighting of the problem than there is today.
“Taking the knee, the Black Lives Matter movement was vital to bring this out into the public domain as much as it is in the public domain today. And it’s also good that when these guys speak and Wilf makes this decision that it goes down to Wilf.
“I’m hoping that this will be continued and the black players playing in our league will keep using their voices because they are powerful voices.
“Hopefully it will make a difference not just to a black footballer being abused on Twitter, but moving beyond that into the workplace, into the street, into our social life in general it will lead to a better, fairer, less discriminatory society. If football can help in any little way to do that, then we’ve got to think that’s very worthwhile.”
Away from the pitch, the club was taking steps of their own, with the Palace for Life Foundation coming together with community influencers, organisations, charities and the Met Police with a commitment to work together and improve the lives of young people living in Croydon – tackling youth violence and knife crime in the borough.
A range of activities have been offered, including football, boxing, cheerleading and DJing among others, as well as providing safe, supportive and educational spaces to drive young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour.
Selhurst Park recently played host to a football match to celebrate a year of the partnership, which took place on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death on May 25th. Teams competed for the Matt Ratana Memorial Trophy, named in honour of Sergeant Matt Ratana who sadly lost his life in September 2020 while working in Croydon.
Palace for Life chief executive Mike Summers told the club website: “In the year since George Floyd’s death, local Croydon community leaders, young people and the Met Police have come together every Friday to forge greater understanding, partnership and friendship.
“Although the journey has only just begun, we’re proud to play our part and welcome them to Selhurst Park today to celebrate the immense progress we’re making.”
The Palace for Life foundation has taken strides in other areas too, with the likes of first-team stars Tyrick Mitchell and Eberechi Eze highlighting the start of Black History Month by answering questions posed by primary-school aged children.
The club and foundation’s commitments to these causes are not limited to the last year, and the hard work will not stop here. Plans are in place to support more south Londoners and work with those most at risk of involvement in serious crime.
And though he will not be continuing with the club after stepping down at the end of this season, perhaps Hodgson summed up best earlier this year when asked about Black History Month and the continual work that goes on away from the pitch that plays such a significant part for a club like Crystal Palace.
“It’s vitally important. It’s very good to see the level of interest in the subject has reached where it is now.
“It’s always been there, I guess, rumbling on in the background, but it seems to me now that more concrete steps are going to be taken and people are certainly prepared to not just talk about things, but to actually do things.
“It’s certainly long overdue. In our region, a lot of our fanbase come from those backgrounds, and I applaud everyone’s initiative and I’m obviously very pleased with everything we do at the football club to promote Black Lives Matter and anti-racism campaign. Because we are in the heart of a part of London where we’re involved in it.”
Credit: Source link