West Ham forward Michail Antonio has issued a powerful response after being asked to comment on the ongoing situation surrounding Kurt Zouma.
Zouma sparked widespread outrage this week after footage emerged of him abusing his cat in his home.
The France international issued a public apology and has been fined two weeks wages by West Ham but was allowed to play in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Watford.
A petition calling for Zouma to be prosecuted has now received more than 270,000 signatures and Essex Police have confirmed they are liaising with the RSPCA as part of “urgent inquiries” into the matter.
West Ham have faced criticism over their handling of Zouma, with some calling for the defender to be sacked by the club.
When asked if Zouma should have received a harsher punishment, Antonio said: “I’ve got a question for you. Do you think what he’s done is worse than racism?”
“I’m not condoning a thing that he’s done. I don’t agree with what he’s done, at all.
West Ham's Michail Antonio has questioned the reaction to Kurt Zouma kicking his cat, asking if it's worse than players convicted of racism. pic.twitter.com/QchAIeXOsT— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) February 10, 2022
“But there’s people that have been convicted and caught for racism and have played football afterwards.
“They got punished, an eight-game punishment or something like that… but people are now calling for people to be sacked and to lose their livelihood.
“I’ve just got to ask this question to everyone out there. Is what he’s done worse than what people have done that have been convicted for racism?”
Antonio's comments come after former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland claimed that Zouma's abuse of his pet was "worse" than racism.
Kirkland’s comments were immediately met with a backlash from supporters and the former Liverpool and Wigan goalkeeper was forced to take to social media to clarify his stance.
"Hi, just a quick video - I know a lot of people seem to be offended and listen I totally understand with what I said this morning about the Kurt Zouma situation,” said Kirkland.
"Obviously I mentioned racism and about if players have been banned before, I know I said that it's possibly worse and that but what I meant was animals can't defend themselves - they've not got a voice.
"Obviously humans have but listen, racism goes without saying it's an absolute disgrace and anyone who does that should be locked up, people know how I feel about that I don't have to say that.
"But yeah, it was just in the context that animals can't defend themselves, they've not got a voice, I meant in that way not obviously the other way so hope that clears it up and yeah, take care everybody."
Zouma was dropped by his sponsor Adidas on Wednesday as the fallout from the video continues, while Vitality have suspended their own sponsorship deal with West Ham.
Meanwhile, the RSPCA have confirmed that Zouma's cats are now in their care while investigations continue.
"Our priority is and has always been the wellbeing of these cats," an RSPCA spokesperson said.
"They've been taken for a check-up at a vets and then will remain in our care while the investigation continues.
"We're grateful to everyone who expressed their concern for these cats. We were dealing with this issue before the video went viral online and are leading the investigation.
"We continue to investigate so we cannot comment further at this time."
Featured Image Credit: PA