Amid their long-awaited return to the soccer field, the Premier League made it clear there is "no room for racism."
As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement gains global reach, both human battles converged symbolically on the soccer field on Wednesday as the Premier League returned to play following an approximate 100-day hiatus.
The kick-off matches saw Manchester City facing off against Arsenal and Aston Villa up against Sheffield United inside a fan-less Villa Park and Etihad Stadium. But, before they played as opponents, each two teams shared a moment of solidarity as they kneeled in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at the start of their games.
Instead of sporting a typical jersey with their name on the back, each player donned the phrase "Black Lives Matter" above their number. "For the first 12 matches, player names on shirts will be replaced by Black Lives Matter. A sleeve patch will feature on shirts for the rest of the season," the Premier League confirmed. "In recognition of NHS workers, an NHS badge will feature on player shirts for the remainder of the season."
The teams also shared a moment of silence before playing in honor of those who have died from the pandemic.
"Aston Villa and Sheffield United were proud to stand in solidarity with the actions of the players and coaching staff of both football clubs during the first ten seconds of tonight's Premier League fixture, expressing our collective support for the Black Lives Matter movement," Aston Villa said in a statement.
"In the first Premier League fixture of Project Restart both clubs hope that the act of 'taking a knee' will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family," the statement continued. "The directors of both clubs, Dean Smith, Chris Wilder, Jack Grealish and Billy Sharp and the players of United and Villa are in full support of this action."
As it concluded, "We believe that 'taking a knee' at the start of the fixture and after the pre-match minute's silence, allowed both clubs to pay their respects to COVID-19 victims and to show the deep gratitude we all feel for our brave and selfless front-line workers."
Back in mid-March, the league announced, "The Premier League, FA, EFL and WSL have collectively agreed to postpone the professional game in England. Following a meeting of Shareholders today, it was unanimously decided to suspend the Premier League with the intention of returning on 4 April, subject to medical advice and conditions at the time."
Days later, they issued another statement, which read, "The FA, Premier League, EFL and women's professional game, together with the PFA and LMA are committed to finding ways of resuming the 2019/20 football season as soon as it is safe and possible to do so."