Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend says footballers are being "painted as villains" after Health Secretary Matt Hancock joined the calls for Premier League stars to take a pay cut.
The Professional Footballers' Association has accepted that players must "share the financial burden" to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, in a letter seen by Sky Sports News, the union has warned players against taking a pay cut or deferring their wages until they have seen the clubs' finances.
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Townsend, speaking on TalkSport, has defended his fellow footballers, saying: "Football is trying to do a lot of good. To wake up yesterday and see footballers being painted as villains was a bit of a surprise to be honest.
"I have never been more proud to be a footballer. Since this crisis started to see the work that the players and clubs have done in the community. At Palace we have helped out the homeless, donated to local charities.
"Individual players are thinking about ways which they can help. I am involved in a campaign, Football United, raising money for the emergency trust. Marcus Rashford has helped feed over 400,000 school children in Manchester."
Health Secretary Hancock, who led Thursday's daily government briefing after completing his period of self-isolation following his coronavirus diagnosis, told footballers to take a pay cut and "play their part".
Townsend added: "The Health Secretary, deflecting blame onto footballers, I don't think that is right. His job is the responsibility of NHS workers.
"He is coming out and deflecting onto the easy targets, the footballers, and that doesn't sit right with me.
"We do have a responsibility but we are giving back to the community and rightly so. We are in a very privileged position. The community effectively pay our wages.
"At a time like this we need to give back."
The PFA has come in for criticism for the delay in collective action from football clubs, but Townsend said: "We received an email two days ago from the PFA which said until they have all the information from clubs, not to be pressured into agreeing anything.
"What that means is until clubs have shown them financial details, until they know whether clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff, to not agree anything.
"If the players end up agreeing to a pay cut or deferral and a few days later the PFA find out that these clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff and are choosing not to, then who benefits?
"The NHS are not benefiting, these heroes are not benefiting. If the clubs can continue to pay them and are choosing not to then it is only those clubs that are benefiting.
"The PFA is doing its job, they are making sure that these clubs can continue to pay non-playing staff before any decision is made."