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Shut up and dribble

Shut up and dribble

Marcus Rashford has become as much an activist as a footballer. Can any player successfully balance on- and off-the-field activities?


Transcript

Hi I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… should Marcus Rashford “stick to football”?

“It’s Rashford! And that is what happens next at the moment, when you are Marcus Rashford!”

“Well the footwork here from Marcus Rashford is outrageous…”

Sky Sports

Ahead of Manchester United’s Champions League fixture with Atalanta, Rashford’s boss, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was asked how he felt to have him available for selection once again. 

The striker had finally recovered from surgery to his shoulder, having delayed the operation to help his teammates out.

Alongside his football, of course, Rashford has been heavily involved off the field with charity work and lobbying politicians on child poverty. 

It’s difficult to overstate just how much of a difference he’s made in ensuring children from poor families are fed. 

Which brings us to Solskjaer – a manager with many headaches right now because of his team’s fluctuating form. 

But he landed himself with another one when he was asked to comment on Rashford’s commitments away from the pitch.   

He said he hoped Rashford could now prioritise his football.  Inevitably, the newspapers had a field day with the headlines. “Focus on Football!” wrote the Daily Mail, while the Metro stated “Rashford Camp Unhappy” with what his boss had said.

In his next press conference, Solskjaer was forced to clarify his comments. 

“Just to get the elephant out of the room straight away. You know with er, the headlines that came after the chat I had before the Leicester game. Of course, we’re so unbelievably proud by what Marcus has done on and off the pitch and now… you know what I said and you made a headline out of one little comment that I never intended to be the focus of what I was saying.”

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Manchester United

And it may have been “one little comment”, but the fact is, those words were spoken. And they can’t be taken back. 

A look at Rashford’s statistics from last season shows no evidence of him having failed to “focus on football.”

He played almost 4,000 minutes in all competitions. He scored 19 times and set up a team-mate to score on nine occasions. Despite his injuries. 

Yet being told to “focus on football” – or indeed on any sport – is nothing new. 

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson has launched a podcast named “defiance” on this very subject.

As part of that series, he interviewed former NBA basketballer John Amaechi, who spoke about Rashford. 

“His voice alone… and I can’t emphasise this enough, it wasn’t a bunch of other stuff. His voice alone ensured that hungry children ate in the United Kingdom. A decision had been made by the government to suspend free school meals during lockdown, during holidays. That meant hungry children would not have been fed. His voice made the government make a U-turn on that and it took days for it to happen. Not months that it takes with all the policymaking.” 

John Amaechi, ‘Defiance’ podcast

Now an athlete speaking his or her mind on non-sporting issues isn’t always welcomed. 

Listen to what happened when LeBron James – widely regarded as one of the best players in basketball history – when he was criticised on air by the journalist Laura Ingraham after he spoke out against President Donald Trump in 2018. 

“And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Oh, and LeBron and Kevin, you’re great players but no-one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their Coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said… shut up and dribble.”

SI Now

LeBron responded by thanking Ingraham for helping to amplify his message – and he used her words to create a three-part documentary called “Shut up and Dribble.”  It looked at the changing environment – political and cultural – affecting black athletes. 

So, should footballers – and athletes in general – shut up and merely stick to sport when spoken to?  

Those days are long gone, aren’t they? If they have something to say why shouldn’t they say it? 

And why – when they put their time to good use – should they come in for criticism? 

Marcus Rashford has proved that footballers have both the platform and influence to change things for the better.  And he is showing he can continue to play football at the highest level. 

Proving his doubters wrong is just another challenge.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Tom Kinsella.