By Andrew McSteen
Crystal Palace players, board and manager Roy Hodgson have voiced their support for protests against the killing in the USA of George Floyd – who died after footage showed a policeman kneeling on his neck as he lay on the ground and said: “I can’t breathe, sir.”
Left back Patrick van Aanholt was one of the first Crystal Palace players active on social media to speak publicly about the death of Floyd, who was being restrained by Minneapolis police – and the subsequent protests in the United States of America which have now spread globally.
“As a player of a club in a community so diverse with culture, players, staff and fans, it’s on all of us to speak up about those that look to keep us separated rather than united,” said Van Aanholt on his Twitter and Instagram accounts late on Monday night. “I’m no politician but I know we must all play our part to help fight this evil #BlackLivesMatter.”
Early on Tuesday morning, the club’s community charity project, the Palace for Life Foundation then sent their own message, tweeting: “We are proud to represent the diverse communities of South London. We stand together today and every day to fight for equality. #BlackLivesMatter”.
The club itself followed a few hours later with a Twitter post: “We are proud of South London, our heritage, and our richly diverse community. #BlackLivesMatter.”
By Tuesday evening, nearly all the first team squad who actively use social media, had publicly shown their support, and for the ‘Blackout Tuesday’ protest movement, by posting black squares on their social channels and stopping online activity in solidarity. The movement was initiated by the music industry following Floyd’s death, as a way of “provoking accountability…change…and to reconnect with our community’.
“It’s now or never!” said Wilfried Zaha in a post. “It makes me sick the fact that we even have to let the world know that black lives matter up to this day! #blackouttuesday,” while defender Martin Kelly posted on Instagram, stating; “Together we are stronger”.
Fellow defender Mamadou Sakho posted “#NORACISM” on Instagram, accompanied by a picture of the French international in training kit at the Eagles training base in Beckenham taking a knee. That gesture was a peaceful protest initiated by NFL player Colin Kaepernick against police violence on black people.
Sakho was also holding a raised, clenched fist, replicating the peaceful protest made by the American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics – widely seen as a landmark in the civil rights movement.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Palace manager Roy Hodgson was in no doubt about the positive power the Palace players can have, and the wider arena of football itself.
“It is good that certain players are taking the initiative to make their feelings felt because I am pretty certain it helps the cause enormously,” he said. “I don’t think we should be trying to stop players speaking out on issues of such importance.
“We (Crystal Palace) in particular, with the diversity we have, and the amount of black people we have in our area, who obviously feel enormously strongly about how George Floyd died, it would be very strange if players didn’t have a view.
“As far as I am concerned, I have no qualms whatsoever about a player explaining to the world in general what he thinks about it. As a football club all we can do is state our obvious support for what is going on in America and our feelings for the people over there who are suffering in this way.
“We have known for years that the entertainment industry; football in our country, is very big in that respect,” added Hodgson about the effect that footballers and other entertainers around the world can have an effect on social change.
“If you go to India, then cricket is enormously big in that respect, go to Australia and it is Australian Rules Football. It is not always our sport (of football) if we look from a global point of view, but the world of sport has always been very important, as has the world of showbusiness, the film and the music industry.
“The people (involved in these industries) have got enormous power and when they speak, they affect an awful lot of people.
“I am pretty sure that the protesters in America who are trying to show that there has been an enormous injustice, and it’s an injustice which they have felt for some while, and which has culminated in another death in police custody, I think it is good for them that people come out in this way and I am sure they appreciate the support.”
Crystal Palace directors and ‘persons with a significant interest’ in the club, David Blitzer and Joshua Harris, showed their solidarity too through their American business interests.
They are joint owners of NBA basketball franchise Philadelphia 76ers, who said they were “…committed to using our voice and taking action to support and drive change that is long overdue” in a statement. The duo’s NHL ice hockey team New Jersey Devils stated: “The racism, prejudice and injustice faced by the black community and people of colour is unacceptable and has no place in our society.”
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