‘I feel like a proud mother”

I had planned to write something completely different today. Then at 2:39 am that idea was pushed to the side. Instead, we will talk about some athletes that continue to inspire by leading from the front, fitting considering it is Black History Month.

A few days ago ESPN UK revealed that from August 6th to September 15th the two most trolled Premier League players were Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. Marcus Rashford had received about 28.5% of the negative tweets recorded and Raheem Sterling had received 24.7%. A day later, Marcus Rashford received the news that he had become an MBE in the Queens Birthday Honours list.

Though they receive the most negative tweets online one could argue that Rashford and Sterling are the two British footballers that we should be incredibly proud of.

Marcus Rashford publicly pressed for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Government to allow about 1.3 million children in the UK to claim free school meal vouchers during the coronavirus pandemic.

This was met with widespread praise and adoration from most. My mother, especially, not only commented on Rashford’s Facebook post but said she felt like a proud mother. In fact, she thinks he deserves more than an MBE. However, Rashford like any other black athlete daring to fight for what he believes in did have the odd critic. Like a certain right-wing blogger who asked if Rashford knew his father.

Then there is Raheem Sterling. Sterling has been as outspoken on racism in the UK as any footballer in the world. In 2017, Sterling was attacked outside Manchester City’s training ground by a man who used racist language towards him. About a year later, Sterling called out the media for fuelling racism against young black footballers. This came after he suffered racist abuse during a defeat at Chelsea.

The amazing part of this story is how young Sterling and Rashford are. Sterling is 25 and Rashford is 22. We could argue that they are not even in their prime years as footballers. Yet, for two of the most talented footballers, England has ever produced, it is incredible to think that their greatest impacts could be off the pitch.

What is so great about this generation of footballers but athletes, in general, is that not only do they stand up for what they believe in, but they talk about key issues something that athletes of the past have often shied away from doing. Someone like Jadon Sancho lifting up his shirt to reveal a message for ‘Justice for George Floyd’. Other athletes like Rhian Brewster, Maro Itoje, Trent Alexander-Arnold along with Sterling, Rashford, and many others emotionally explaining what the Black Lives Matter Movement means to them is something that might not have happened in the past.

Alex Scott preaches about the importance of taking care of your mental health

There are other issues to talk about as illustrated by Jesse Lingard, Troy Deeney, and Alex Scott. They have all openly talked about their battles with their mental health. Lingard has received abuse mostly from his own Manchester United fans. Alex Scott faces racist trolls who seemed to have an issue with the fact that she was touted as the replacement for Sue Barker as the host of the BBC TV show ‘A Question Of Sport’. Before that when she would regularly work as an analyst for both Sky and BBC. Listening to all of them open up about their own battles with their mental health was very inspiring.

There are so many other examples that we could look into whether it is Eni Aluko. Aluko was the victim of racism and harassment from her Head Coach during her time with the England women’s squad. She was vilified for talking openly about her experiences. Then there are people like Rio Ferdinand and Ian Wright. They have spoken openly about racism, mental health, and the issues that have affected their lives. The willingness of athletes to talk about issues is affecting change and raising awareness

For years, athletes have allowed the media to control the narrative about them. They were told to stick to sports, labelled as idiots, vilified for their wealth and this was even worse if they were black. It is refreshing to see this generation of young athletes refuse to be pigeonholed as just athletes, but show to all of us that not only are they gifted and wealthy they have a voice and they are going to use it to affect change for the better whether you like it or not.

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