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When you stop and think about it, when you really sit with the realization, it is deeply embarrassing that Marcus Rashford is already the world’s most influential soccer player. Not embarrassing to him, mind you. Or really any of the other superstar soccer players either. Not embarrassing to the sport. But embarrassing to the people who ought to be accomplishing the things that Rashford has had to do in their stead, to cover for their failures.
In a way, in that way that actually matters, Rashford is already the world’s greatest soccer player. He is doing the most good; more good than any other soccer player currently or in recent memory — in all memory, perhaps.
Because Rashford has a notion that children going hungry is a bad thing and that he should do something about children going hungry because it turns out that he can. Because he has worked out ways of leveraging his large-but-by-no-means unique platform into food for children, so that children won’t go hungry. Because he has stepped in where the United Kingdom’s longtime conservative government, in power for a decade without interruption, has fallen short: making sure children don’t go hungry in one of the world’s oldest powers and richest nations.
It has fallen to a soccer player to make sure that this most basic of needs, among this most vulnerable populations, is met.
Rashford earned his platform the old-fashioned way. He is part of a wave of young forwards making the sport theirs, a prominent member of the club dislodging Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — its other proponents are Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Joao Felix and Ansu Fati.
A few days shy of his 23rd birthday, Rashford has already logged 222 senior team games for Manchester United, scoring 71 goals. He has never failed to score double-digit goals in any of his full seasons in the first team since rising from the youth academy, no matter the tumult United went through. He has 40 England caps and 11 international goals. And his 87th-minute winner at Paris Saint-Germain last week slayed the French giants in the Champions League for the second time in his young career.
Before the pandemic shut the UK down, Rashford was already helping the homeless with his mother, but when prime minister Boris Johnson’s government called a lockdown without providing an alternative to free meals in public schools, he acted again. These were the meals he himself relied on as a child, and he couldn’t abide others going without them.
Rashford joined with a charity in hopes of delivering meals to 400,000 children in the Manchester area. Instead, they reached four million across the country, courtesy of the attention Rashford brought to the issue and a subsequent windfall of donations.
He then shamed the government into extending free meals through the summer holidays. When those ended, Rashford started a petition to extend free, government-subsidized school meals through at least the Easter holidays. It quickly got enough signatures to force Parliament to debate and vote on the matter. The vote was defeated, but Rashford has not let up, keeping the pressure on government to act against childhood poverty.
In recognition of his work on behalf of England’s children, Rashford was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Manchester and an MBE — as a Member of the Order of the British Empire, an honor reserved for people who have distinguished themselves in the service of their nation.
This week, Rashford was at it again, tweeting out to his 3.7 million followers the organizations and restaurants up and down the country that were giving away free meals to children during a school break.
Rashford has done it all selflessly. He doesn’t stand to gain much. He is already rich and famous. He isn’t running for office. He doesn’t appear to have any affiliation to a political party. That makes it hard to refute his core argument: that there is no excuse for child hunger to still exist in the United Kingdom.
And the fact that Rashford is untethered from politics inoculates him from the usual blowback that comes from criticizing the ruling party or government. This eloquent Twitter thread convincingly makes the point that Rashford’s lack of want for anything but his stated cause also makes it hard to silence him.
And for that, Rashford deserves every ounce of credit coming his way. He didn’t have to do any of this — nobody else did it, after all. But that he felt compelled to do so at all, that it was left up to him to fix this persistent societal issue that is nowhere near the remit of a professional soccer player, should shame those who actually are responsible for feeding the UK’s children.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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