Sheffield United’s Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick led the way in encouraging their team-mates, Aston Villa opponents and the officials to go down on one knee before the first game following last year’s first Covid-19 lockdown.
The gesture mimicked that of NFL player Colin Kaepernick to protest against racism in 2016, and followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Nearly a year on, it continues before all Premier League matches, but Football League clubs have taken individual approaches.
When on Easter Monday Hull’s Mallik Wilks decided to follow Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and others in not taking the knee, team-mate Josh Magennis joined him. On Saturday, no one took the knee before Hull’s League One match at Plymouth Argyle.
Championship side Swansea City are having a seven-day social media blackout to protest against online abuse of players, and Birmingham City and Rangers have followed suit. Hull are speaking to other clubs about whether to join in.
“Walking out (against Northampton Town on Easter Monday) I’d planned to take the knee but Mallik came up to said to me he didn’t want to cause any disrespect or anything but he wasn’t going to,” explained Magennis. “I said, ‘No problem, I’ll do it with you.’ I didn’t want him to feel he had to face this on his own.
“When everyone started to kneel you could see the reaction right the way back to Colin Kapernick – that man lost his job in the NFL. It was a massive thing. It got to the stage with Mallik where he thought it was maybe happening just for the sake of it. I think it was just how Mallik wanted to express himself.
“I just wanted to let him know he wasn’t on his own.”
Barnsley manager Ismael and his Sheffield Wednesday counterpart Darren Moore, two of the few black managers in the Football League, recognise taking the knee is a side-issue, though Ismael feels it is still worthwhile.
“It’s important to keep the fight going,” said Ismael. “Whether you take the knee or not is not the big problem. The big problem is to fight on the same side.
“The fight against racism won’t stop tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, it will be a very, very long fight and we have to stay consistent.
“For me it’s important to take the knee because it’s a visual signal against racism and discrimination.”
Moore is happy for his players to do whatever they feel is best.
“The players want to see racial equality at all levels,” he said. “The message is not to be diluted in any way.
“There’s probably more spoken about the ones not taking the knee than those that are.
“It’s the players’ decision. If they want to take the knee, stand, clap or link arms, we support it. It’s a collective decision by the team, they still want to take the knee and we support them.”
As for social media boycotts, Magennis is in favour of collective action.
“Whatever Hull decide to do, they won’t make a decision without talking to the players first,” he said.
“It’s a tricky one. People should be allowed to communicate freely but people should not be discriminated against or abused face to face or online.
“If you want to speak about things that shouldn’t be spoken about, you should be held accountable for what comes out of your mouth or your thumbs. Until there’s proper verification (of social media accounts) – and I don’t just mean blue ticks for proper famous people, I mean for everybody – that’s going to continue.
“I’m on Instagram but I’m not a real avid user. If I was facing abuse individually I would have no choice but to exclude myself from the situation bringing me harm. You can’t just think of it selfishly, ‘I’m on Instagram and I don’t get abuse so I don’t really worry.’ If it’s affecting one of us, it’s affecting all of us so there has to be unity.”
He does accept, though, not everyone will respond the same way.
“We’re 25-plus completely different individuals (in a squad),” he pointed out. “If I was to be racially abused it’s just in me to speak out. Some other boys are quite introvert and they might deal with it in an another way.
“The most important thing is regardless of how you want to deal with it, people should know there’s support there.
“Players just have to let other players know they’re not alone. If you don’t want to speak to the club or your family, you can speak to us and we can come together as a group and make a decision because a group decision is more powerful. If the congregation speaks, more times than not it grabs people’s attentions to the fullest.”
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