Our Sporting and Entertainment Icons Matter Too
We cannot help but heartily praise the role that sporting icons of today, black ones in particular, have been playing in recent years in the global struggle for equality, justice, democracy and an end to poverty. In ways more than one, these sporting stars, revered by young people, have been demonstrating that there is more to life than playing sport and accumulating wealth.
The year 2020 has witnessed a stepping up of their activities whether by making generous financial donations to the underprivileged, by speaking out on matters of injustice, being in the forefront in protest actions or by using their considerable influence to lobby policy-makers to institute change.
When it was obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic was a global threat, many of these global superstars became directly involved in becoming the focus of fundraising efforts to help those affected. Household names in football such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo made huge donations to fight the virus in their countries of birth as did many prominent footballers from Africa. An international fundraising tool named Athletes for Relief got the full support of famed black gymnast Simone Biles, basketball star Steph Curry and swimmer Michael Phelps, among others.
The worldwide protests around Black Lives Matter, has seen some of the sporting giants of today such as basketballer Lebron James, a host of NFL stars following the sacrificial efforts of Colin Kaepernick, Caribbean cricketers Darren Sammy and Chris Gayle, and even in sports where black people have not been traditionally prominent such as car-racing, being in the leadership of the clamour for an end to racism.
World Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton and the lone African-American driver in NASCAR’s top level, Bubba Wallace, have been remarkable in their outspokenness in white-dominated sports, Wallace has even been instrumental in getting NASCAR to ban the racist confederate flag from its grounds during events.
No praise can be too high for the actions of these stars, most of them comfortable multi-millionaires, but yet willing to speak out against racism and injustice, and to make tangible contributions to boot. However they are not the only global superstars hero-worshipped by hundreds of millions of young people the world over. In particular there are many especially in the film and entertainment industry who are very influential. They too can play an important role.
They do not necessarily have to engage in public protest but in their own ways can play a role in influencing policy-makers and enacting change. One such example is the 22-year-old black footballer Marcus Rashford, a star for both Manchester United and England. Remembering his own childhood experience when he had to rely on free school meals and food banks to see his way through school, Rashford teamed up with the UK charity FairShare to raise over 20 million pounds to provide food for more than 3 million children whose access to free school meals was affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.
When the British government announced an end to the service this week, Rashford wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for an end to child poverty and was successful in getting the government to change its policy and extend free school meals during the summer holidays. He has been lauded widely for his initiative.
This is the kind of action that influential global figures can take. Not just global either, for in the Caribbean we have very influential stars especially in entertainment and sport. We urge them to use this substantial influence to try and bring about positive change for all our people, our children and youth in particular.