Connor Southwell: Why Christoph Zimmermann isn't taking the knee

The players take a knee before the Sky Bet Championship match at the Madejski Stadium, Reading
Pict

The players take a knee before the Sky Bet Championship match at the Madejski Stadium, Reading Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 16/12/2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Supporters' return to stadiums should have been a glorious celebratory moment that ended nine months of sterile football and behind-closed-doors action. Largely, at Norwich City, that was the case. 

However, a fraction of Millwall and Colchester United supporters opted to boo as their own players took the knee in solidarity with the bid to achieve racial equality across the globe. That point is worth stressing prior to getting any further into this piece, footballers aren't taking a knee because of a political movement. 

They didn't when they began the Premier League announced 'Black Lives Matter' would be printed on the back of players shirts and they weren't at the Den.

Carrow Road was even subjected to an individual supporter being ejected for deciding to boo as both sets of players took the knee before the Canaries' match against Nottingham Forest earlier this month, but the vast majority have applauded as City players have taken the knee. 

Discussion on social media has been rife as one City player has stood whilst others decided to kneel. 

That decision doesn't make Christoph Zimmermann a racist. Nor does it mean he subscribes to the anti-Black Lives Matter campaign that has been launched in some quarters. 

The towering German defender is hardly a man against social progression. Zimmermann has been prominent with his work in the community and has been a vocal advocate for the Proud Canaries group since he arrived at the club in 2017. 

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Those criticisms or accusations cannot be thrown in his direction. The reality is that the defender feels the gesture has lost meaning. There is a willingness from his side for it to come to an end in the same that others, like the Rainbow Lace campaign, becomes an annual recognition. 

From his perspective, this is not something that can go on forever. 

Somebody's decision whether or not to take the knee is a personal one. Zimmermann decided he would respectfully stand. That is his choice and he remains completely against racism and the cause for social justice.

Instead of booing, Zimmermann opts to respect the choice of others. He may not kneel himself but is respectful to those who do. That is the crux of the debate, he is respectful to others with a different perspective. 

There have been games this season where Norwich, as a team, haven't taken a knee. The Millwall incident has shined a spotlight once again on the importance of the issue - but nobody should be scrutinised or questioned for not wanting to partake in the taking of a knee. 

Christoph Zimmermann has spent plenty of time with Norwich City's community projects since arriving

Christoph Zimmermann has spent plenty of time with Norwich City's community projects since arriving at the club back in the summer of 2017 as a free agent. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

It is personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer as long as both sides are respectful. Nobody should boo those deciding to take a knee in the same way as other moments of reflection or other campaigns. 

Norwich City is one of the most inclusive clubs around. In the heart of their midfield is a Bosnian refugee, the first openly gay professional footballer came through the academy here and there is a woman at the very top of the club in Delia Smith. 

Zimmermann isn't a poster boy for those opting to argue against Black Lives Matters. Footballers aren't political entities that can be filled with others' beliefs. They are human and hold their own opinions, he is as entitled to his as much as anybody else. 

Ask any Norwich City footballer who is the most intelligent and professional player at Colney and the response would be: Christoph Zimmermann. He will have spoken to his teammates, they respect his decision. That is the most important thing.

Quite frankly, respecting others opinions is a quality that has escaped from the political discourse in this country. Everything is polarised, there is no nuance. Sometimes things aren't as malicious as they appear on the surface but the desire to be on the 'winning side' is exhausting. 

The players take a knee before the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
Picture by Pa

Players have been taking the knee after the tragic death of George Floyd in America. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Holding a view and being open for debate and being entrenched is entirely different. Some may even argue it's why the country finds itself in its current position. 

Zimmermann doesn't need to explain his rationale. As a society, we can be quick to launch scathing attacks on people without fully understanding the context or allowing them a voice. And this is coming from somebody who wholeheartedly supports players taking the knee and even wrote a piece on that subject back in August.

Arguments about connotations and association with political movements and buzzwords can be debated until the end of time, but sport and politics have always been intertwined because sport contains human beings and they have their own beliefs. 

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