MICAH RICHARDS has hit back at critics who claim Black Lives Matter is responsible for his job as a Sky Sports pundit.
Increased focus has been placed on racial diversity around football and wider society since the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.
Players have taken a knee before games with the Premier League placing the BLM logo on shirts for the final weeks of last season.
Former Manchester City and England star Richards feels these changes and considerations should not diminish the effort he put in to become a Sky Sports pundit.
He stated on Monday Night Football: "I'm in a privileged position and I did this through hard work.
"And the hard work that I've put in is not going to be tarnished.
"I've got people on Twitter, people on Instagram, 'Oh, Micah Richards is only on because of this whole Black Lives Matter movement'.
"But I've had conversations with corporations that I've worked for way before this.
"And now I'm getting tarnished with the same brush, 'He's only on TV because of Black Lives Matter' - which is disheartening for me.
"Because I put in the work, I work every single day at my craft. I've been a professional footballer, I've won a Premier League, I've played at the highest level... and I'm still getting stones thrown at me.
"So if I've got to fly the flag, people want to thrown stones at me - I'll happily take it. Because I know, I put in the work."
Richards, 32, was a rare academy product in a big-spending Manchester City team that won a Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup between 2011 and 2014.
After a decade at the club, he left for Aston Villa but form and injury difficulties led to an early retirement.
Announced as a lead pundit on Sky Sports' coverage ahead of the new season, Richards also paid tribute to fellow analyst Alex Scott.
Richards praised the "absolutely incredible" work she does behind the microphone while suffering the "double jeopardy" of being both BAME and a woman.
Both former players came in for unsolicited criticism when Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas and Phil Thompson were surprisingly removed from Sky Sports' Soccer Saturday show.
Arsenal legend Ian Wright fumed at "stinking mouthed racists" who blamed black pundits for the decision.
And Richards has urged people to "work together" to end racism in society.
He continued: "Sometimes it feels like it's being forced on people and it's almost turning people the other way, like white people now feeling like they're getting tarnished with the 'racist' brush.
"That's not fair, you read Instagram and Twitter, 'Why am I getting tarnished with that brush?'.
We all need to understand that there is a problem, not just at the lower level but at the top level.Micah Richards
"So you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. Everyone's got their own opinions on how things can change but I think we just all need to work together.
"We all need to understand that there is a problem, not just at the lower level but at the top level.
"If a black person or ethnic minority wants a chance, they've got to put themselves forward. I'm here working for Sky Sports, one of the biggest networks, because I believe in myself."
Richards earned a positive reaction on social media, with viewers praising his punditry skills as well as his powerful message.
Twitter user Liam wrote: "Best pundit going no debate."
Steve added: "Micah Richards has fast become one of the best pundits currently around and is getting the work on merit. Nothing else. It's sad that he is made to feel that way by some ignorant people. You can tell the pundits who wing it and don't do their research. He isn't one of them."
And Ethan tweeted: "Got a lot of time and respect for Micah Richards great personality, work ethic and good pundit."