Wilfried Zaha Becomes 1st EPL Player to Not Kneel Since Demonstrations Began

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2021

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha reacts during the English Premier League soccer match between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion at Selhurst Park stadium in London, England, Saturday, March 13, 2021.(Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)
Mike Hewitt/Associated Press

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha did not take a knee before Saturday's match against West Bromwich Albion, becoming the first Premier League player to refuse to partake in the ongoing demonstrations against racism.

Zaha, who is Black, has spoken out against the form of protest in the past, saying it is "degrading" and does not help move forward anti-racism causes. A statement was released shortly ahead of his team's 1-0 win Saturday, saying players continue to receive abuse despite the kneeling. 

"My decision to stand at kick-off has been public knowledge for a couple of weeks now. There is no right or wrong decision, but for 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 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."

Premier League players and officials have been kneeling before matches to protest against racism dating back to last season, after the league paused during the UK's national lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Premier League CEO Richard Masters said players will continue kneeling for the remainder of the season, but no punishment will be levied for players who choose not to participate.

"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 in an interview published Saturday.