Newcastle winger Allan Saint-Maximin says the issues and emotions raised by the death of George Floyd are ones that “touch everyone”.
Protests have been held across the globe after Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on 25 May.
“It’s a really difficult time because I know these things can happen to a lot of people,” Saint-Maximin told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“If this happened to your mother or your sister or your father, you can feel like you want to die, you don’t want to go to work, you don’t want to do anything so people have to take this seriously and know that this does not have to happen again.”
The 23-year-old spoke about the subject as part of a wide-ranging interview, during which he also discussed his childhood, his desire to be selfless both on and off the pitch and how his dog has been helping him stay sharp during lockdown.
‘You can feel the pain’
Floyd’s death has caused outrage and sparked a wave of protests against racial discrimination and police treatment of African Americans in cities across the United States and the world.
Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers present face counts of aiding and abetting murder.
Saint-Maximin: It’s difficult to see everything. I see a lot of videos and I don’t like to see people hurt.
You can feel the pain. It’s a difficult time for me but we have to carry on and be careful.
I’m so sorry and so disappointed for George and for his family. I know this could happen to a lot of people, it could happen to my father or my brother.
That’s why I try to do my best to support. Even though it’s not in my country I think this touches everyone.
We see the story everywhere. If you can give support or help or do something, I think everybody just wants to help.
You can only know the pain when this happens to you, but you can understand and it’s important.
‘I have to take care of people’
Shortly after signing for Newcastle from Nice, Saint-Maximin visited the NUFC Fans’ Foodbank in Benwell, which provides food parcels, toiletries and hot meals to those most in need within the community, after having struck up a conversation with its organisers on Twitter.
Saint-Maximin: It’s really important for me [to volunteer at a food bank] because I know where I come from. I wasn’t born with money or a big car, I was born with nothing.
Even if my parents were in a good situation they would always say ‘you have to go and get everything, even if I could give you money and nice things I won’t because you have to understand that life is difficult’.
I know I have to take care of people sometimes. Even if I don’t give money I know I can give my time and I can stay with these people and talk a little bit.
It’s important for me to remember where I’m from.
‘I am not your man Messi’
Saint-Maximin has provided three goals and four assists so far in 21 appearances during a maiden season in the Premier League disrupted by injury.
With the club 13th in the table, eight points above the relegation zone, the winger is keen to stress his individual stats matter far less than the success of the team…
Saint-Maximin: Sometimes people will be offered one candy for yourself or 10 candies for other people and I see some people just want to take all the candy for themselves.
My parents always taught me that if you have 10 euros, take one for yourself and give the rest to your friends. That’s why I’ll always think about my partner and my team, it’s not always about me and my chance to score.
If my team-mates said to me go out there and try to dribble so I can get more space and have more opportunity to score – it would not be me who scores because I cannot dribble and then go to the goalkeeper, I am not your man Messi.
That is why I just try to do my job, maybe sacrifice my statistics but I don’t think about myself and if I can give my team an opportunity to score then I’ll do it.
‘I sneaked a ball into church’
Saint-Maximin was born in Chatenay-Malabry, a commune in the south-western suburbs of Paris, France and picked up the bug for football at an early age…
Saint-Maximin: I started dribbling the ball around my house from very young and I would sleep with my ball and my boots.
Then, when I saw my brother play football I thought maybe this could be a good game for me because I love to play with the ball. I started to play, and they said to me ‘oh you’re very good for your age’.
My parents had to talk to me because in the church they said I couldn’t bring my ball, so I would come in with the ball behind my back and would dribble about after.
‘Difficult to dribble against a dog’
The Premier League will return to action on 17 June following the competition’s suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic. Newcastle’s first game is at home against Sheffield United on 21 June and Saint-Maximin has been keeping sharp in a novel way…
Saint-Maximin: I have a big dog, it’s strong – it’s difficult to dribble against a dog because they are only focused on the ball.
When you’ve managed to dribble against your dog you know you are doing good because you have to be quick.
I’m trying to to do my best to stay fit in the house and enjoy it too. Training alone takes a lot of motivation, so taking my dog keeps me going.