Daily Mail

PO­LIT­I­CAL PLAY­ERS

Sports­peo­ple are no longer afraid to have their say on mat­ters be­yond their sphere

- IAN HER­BERT Deputy Chief Sports Writer @ian­herbs Puerto Rico · Marcus Rashford · United Kingdom · Boris Johnson · Manchester United F.C. · Manchester · Tottenham Hotspur Football Club · Arbeidersparty · Paul Gascoigne · Wayne Rooney · Raheem Sterling · Burnley F.C. · Michael Jordan · Republican Party (United States) · Netflix · NFL · Liverpool · Liverpool Football Club · Gary Lineker · Gary Neville · Colin Kaepernick · Trent Alexander-Arnold · Jamie Carragher · Neville Southall

In the world of PR they talk about ‘au­then­tic­ity’ and Rash­ford brings that in abun­dance

The in­flu­ence that Mar­cus Rash­ford wields ex­tends way be­yond his cam­paign to put food on the ta­bles of those strug­gling with the stigma attached to ask­ing oth­ers for help.

A mes­sage to the fam­ily of a six-year- old who died when he was hit by a car while rid­ing his bike. Recog­ni­tion of a child’s school project, sent in by the boy’s mother. Thanks to ware­house staff de­liv­er­ing food to those in need. The re­sponses to his tweets on th­ese sub­jects range from 31,000 to 82,000.

Some per­spec­tive here. The Prime Min­is­ter’s tweet on the rea­sons to ‘get kids back to school’ had gar­nered around 9,500 re­sponses by last night.

The con­cept they all talk about in the world of lob­by­ing and PR is ‘au­then­tic­ity’ and Rash­ford — who has now formed a task­force with some of the UK’s big­gest food brands to try to help re­duce child food poverty — brings it in abun­dance.

he was born into a sin­gle­par­ent home in 1997, two years after Boris John­son wrote in The

Spec­ta­tor that sin­gle mothers were pro­duc­ing a gen­er­a­tion of ‘ill-raised, ig­no­rant, ag­gres­sive and il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren’.

Those who know him well say that we are wit­ness­ing a force of per­son­al­ity which Rash­ford’s mother Me­lanie has be­queathed.

‘She is for­mi­da­ble. An ex­tremely strong char­ac­ter,’ says one source who has worked with a num­ber of play­ers at Manch­ester United.

But Rash­ford’s so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing is what lever­ages him power that play­ers of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions could only dream of.

The ca­pac­ity to by­pass the politi­cians who would not know a sin­gle-par­ent, work­ing-class fam­ily if they fell over one — health Sec­re­tary Matt han­cock re­ferred to the 22- year- old as ‘ Daniel Rash­ford’ in a live news bul­letin — is mak­ing sport a ve­hi­cle for so­cial and po­lit­i­cal change in a way un­think­able two years ago.

For years, many were dis­in­clined to speak out. When hunter Davies was given ac­cess to Bill Nicholson’s Tot­ten­ham hot­spur team for his sem­i­nal 1972 book

The Glory Game, he found nine of the 12 who ex­pressed an opin­ion were Tory, while of the three Labour men — Ralph Coates, Cyril Knowles and Steve Per­ry­man — only Per­ry­man seemed to have any ‘po­lit­i­cal feel­ing’.

Davies, who went on to ghost write au­to­bi­ogra­phies with Paul Gas­coigne and Wayne Rooney, later re­flected: ‘ The psy­chol­ogy of a footballer is that they are brought up to think about them­selves. They are put into acad­e­mies where the aim has to be to get ahead of ev­ery­one else if you want to come through.’

But when politi­cians and writ­ers had all the power, foot­ballers were em­bar­rassed to ex­press any views. ‘ There’s an anti-in­tel­lec­tual strain in the game which means ex­press­ing one­self can bring ridicule in the dressing room,’ said one ex-player. Sport and pol­i­tics never mixed.

The fight against racial dis­crim­i­na­tion has done most to change that, cat­a­pult­ing Ra­heem Ster­ling into the kind of fig­ure­head role which even he did not seem to an­tic­i­pate.

Then came this sum­mer’s Black Lives Mat­ter protests, tak­ing voices in all sports — from football to mo­tor rac­ing — to new lev­els. When big­ots tried to hi­jack Burn­ley’s ef­forts to take a knee, cap­tain Ben Mee of­fered a pow­er­ful, hugely ar­tic­u­late re­sponse.

The source adds: ‘Black Lives Mat­ter has been so sig­nif­i­cant and shown football play­ers that they can be heard. For so long, there’s been an elitism in this coun­try. I would call it an in­tel­lec­tual bias against work­ing­class play­ers.’

The world of sport has changed ir­re­vo­ca­bly and for the bet­ter.

It seems incredible now that bas­ket­ball’s hugely in­flu­en­tial icon Michael Jor­dan did not pub­licly back the African-Amer­i­can politi­cian har­vey Gantt in his 1990 cam­paign for a Se­nate seat against Jesse helms, a Repub­li­can with bor­der­line racist views. his re­fusal to do so, cap­tured in the re­cent Net­flix doc­u­men­tary The

Last Dance saw Gantt lose the elec­tion. It also seems unimag­in­able that Colin Kaeper­nick ( left) — still os­tracised from the NFL and with no club, four years after be­ing the first player to take a knee — would be cast out were he to stage that protest now. In the UK, ar­tic­u­late cam­paign­ers in­clude Liver­pool’s Trent Alexan­der-Arnold — football’s staunch­est ally for food banks — while Gary Lineker, Jamie Car­ragher and Gary Neville use their mass fol­low­ings to dis­cuss so­cial is­sues. But in his new book Mind

Games, pub­lished later this month, for­mer ever­ton keeper Neville Southall, who now works in ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren who are strug­gling, ar­gues that play­ers and clubs can do more with their so­cial me­dia lever­age.

In the film ac­com­pa­ny­ing Rash­ford’s lat­est BBC in­ter­view, a mother is close to tears as she tells him how it feels to know some­one who has lived the same ex­pe­ri­ence is on her side.

‘It will stay with me,’ Rash­ford tells the in­ter­viewer. ‘ This is so sim­i­lar to what I’ve known.’

 ?? GETTY IM­AGES ?? Tak­ing a stance: Rash­ford has led the way on so­cial is­sues dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis
GETTY IM­AGES Tak­ing a stance: Rash­ford has led the way on so­cial is­sues dur­ing the coro­n­avirus cri­sis
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