We currently live in a time of uncertainty, upheaval and confusion. As a result of this, it’s of the upmost importance that as a society we show compassion and make genuine efforts to alleviate the stresses many disadvantaged families and individuals face. In July, amidst the height of a global pandemic, when the government attempted to scrap a scheme which entitled many working families to free school meals for their children, they showed a blatant disregard for the empathy and support millions undeniably required. This, unfortunately, is neither unsurprising nor uncharacteristic of the current crop ‘leading’ the country. At the complete other end of the spectrum however, Marcus Rashford exhibited a proactive awareness and caring attitude that is rarely seen from a 22-year-old footballer. His personal plea to the government to reverse their policy was listened to, initially rejected, and then subsequently accepted, much akin to their ‘flip-flop’ mantra of the past year.
Successful athletes possess a platform that is almost unrivalled. The phrase ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ comes to mind, but this responsibility is all too often either ignored, misused or downright abused. As an athlete and particularly a footballer, you have millions of people, many of them children, who follow your every post, video or interview with awe and wonder at what you might say or promote. The ever-critical eye of the tabloids is always watching, and it’s easier to avoid controversy through apathetic silence on social affairs, collecting your hefty wage and leaving others to the task.
Rashford hails from Wythenshawe, one of the more poverty-stricken areas of Manchester, and personally knows the struggle that living with uncertainty about your next meal entails. The Manchester United forward attended a primary school where the number of pupils receiving free school meals is double the national average. Speaking candidly, he emphasises “what families are going through now, I had to go through that same system and its very difficult to get out of it”. Rashford’s mother Mel, raised five children single-handedly whilst working full time, and he admits to often going hungry as a child, despite his mum’s best efforts. “If there was food on the table, there was food on the table. If there’s not, I had friends who understood my situation and maybe it was possible for me to go to their house to get some food.”
His own experiences in his upbringing clearly motivating him to change the agenda for so many families who find themselves in similar circumstances, Rashford has used his platform to full positive effect, and in doing so, made the government completely U-turn on their policy. “Now I’m in this position that I’m in, it’s very important for me to help the people who are struggling.” The will to use his position of influence to promote values of aid and understanding is one that is wholeheartedly refreshing and admirable. It’s also one that completely undermines the untrue stereotype of young, successful Black men in this country.
Young Black footballers receive discriminatory treatment from large sections of the tabloid media; one only has to look at the Daily Mail or the Sun’s most recent scathing review of Raheem Sterling’s jewellery or tattoos to understand as such. In painting many of them as ‘flash’ or ostentatious, they receive unwarranted abuse whether that be at the terraces, via social media, or directly to their face. With a number of Black players coming from underprivileged backgrounds, media outlets falsely depict them as out of touch with their upbringing. A narrative is created whereby it is acceptable to berate Black players for the very same actions and choices their white teammates make. It is vile, racist and wrong.
Hence why Rashford’s recent campaign for free school meals is not of importance only on a humane level, nor primarily for a responsible use of platform. His actions, attitude and words prove him to be a caring, socially aware and intelligent young Black man who uses his fame to help other people who come from poverty, a fact that considerable parts of the tabloid media either omit or misreport on.
Earlier this year, when discussing the murder of George Floyd, Rashford was as poignant as ever, “People are hurting and people need answers. “Black lives matter. Black culture matters. Black communities matter. We matter.” A statement so simple, yet powerful to its core.
The England International is a shining example of having a strong sense of responsibility, humbleness and a clear drive to change the misfortunes of others. He represents all that the modern footballer should aspire to be: a hugely talented player on the pitch, a humanitarian off it.
Image Credit: Sky News