Emile Heskey believes the gesture of taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement has become “a gimmick” and diluted the call for real change.
Earlier this week, former England forward and current QPR director of football Les Ferdinand released a statement on the club’s official website, saying: "Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game - actions will."
Asked about Ferdinand’s comments, former Liverpool and England star Heskey supported him, saying: “I think, regardless of what you think about what Les said, you have to listen to his message.
“A lot of times we just hear things and then throw it away. You have to listen to what he is saying.
“We have gone from something that meant something, to it becoming a gimmick. We have lost the message it was trying to make. It was getting diluted.
“It’s great if you take the knee, but what are you doing it for? Where is the change? The message is getting mixed up.
“I understand what Les is saying. We want change, let’s see the change, not just take a knee.
“I’m not saying the knee hasn’t done anything, but let’s act on the message, not just keep taking a knee.
“We are talking about representation, aren’t we? All we’re doing now is talking about the knee, we are not talking about representation.
“We need more open discussions about that and how can we have more representation of people of colour [in coaching and administration].
“Once we have opened those conversations with the right people, then we can talk about change.
“People don’t like change, I don’t like change, but change is good for you. Diversity is good business. It’s good for football.”Getty
Heskey is currently back at Leicester City, his first and hometown club, in an ambassador role which sees him support the development of the women’s game.
Leicester’s women’s team, who play in the Championship, currently have one of just three Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) coaches in the top two tiers, with Jonathan Morgan’s only company in that category being Brighton’s Hope Powell and Charlton’s Riteesh Mishra.
Morgan has been at the club for many years now, alongside his dad, Rohan, who is the chairman, and his sisters Holly and Jade, who have roles as club captain and general manager respectively.
This year, the team, who face Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the Women’s FA Cup this weekend, have gone full-time for the first time as they target promotion to the Women’s Super League.
“It’s a progression. You can’t run before you can walk,” Heskey, who played 140 times for the Foxes, said.
“The owners looked at it many years ago, but this is the right time to do it. The Morgan family were doing a wonderful job and felt this was the right time.”
In his new role, Heskey has become a lot more familiar with the women’s game, which he admits he had watched some of during his own playing career, but not much.
“I’d watched it, but I hadn’t really delved into it in that sense,” he said.
“It’s funny, because at school I used to play mixed football and I was okay with that, no problem. But I had never looked at women’s football that seriously.
“It’s only when you see a few games, it comes to you more. It just needed to be pushed into the spotlight more, it needed to be seen.
“There are some wonderful players, wonderful teams and they needed to be in the public gaze more. It wasn’t really there to be watched before but that is changing.
“There was [a stigma against women playing football] when I was younger but that has gone.
“Girls used to be pushed into playing netball and athletics, but why shouldn’t they play football? That is changing and those opportunities are there, chances to progress.
“Girls in Leicester have that opportunity. It’s great we’ve got local leagues but we also have that professional environment to aim for.”