The Manchester-based pair continue to lead the way as the Premier League attempts to challenge issues both within and outside the English game
Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have been praised for their work to condemn social inequalities, with the duo setting an example for other Premier League stars to follow according to ex-Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi.
Manchester United forward Rashford has been awarded an MBE after his awareness campaign led to a government U-turn on supplying free school meals to children whose families are struggling financially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Manchester City star Sterling, meanwhile, has been an outspoken critic of racism, with high-profile incidents of abuse and discrimination continuing to tarnish both footbal and the wider world.
The Premier League is aiming to highlight the need for more action with its ‘No Room for Racism’ campaign, and is encouraging fans to challenge and report racism wherever they see it.
And Ameobi, who is one of the members of the Premier League’s Black Player’s Advisory Group [BPAG] alongside the likes of Troy Deeney, Ian Wright, Joleon Lescott and Darren Moore, believes that the actions of both Rashford and Sterling will help other players stand up for what they believe is right.
“What Raheem had to deal with and speak on sets a great example for the rest of us to not settle for the status quo, but challenge what’s going on in society,” Ameobi told Goal.
“Ian Wright has spoken out recently and the more people that speak out the more it helps. It hurts, and the more people who can speak out helps society understand that this is not right.
“I am blown away with the impact and it goes to show how much impact footballers and sports stars can have.
“When you look at the campaign Rashford has done and how it has affected change at a national level, this is something that is an important issue that we have to deal with.
“The fact he has been able to use his voice at such a young age to really affect change speaks to his character and what he believes in. That, for me, sets an example for the rest of us and shows us we can have an impact on these social issues.
“Marcus fights the fight for those who can’t, and that’s what we are all trying to do. I am proud of what he has done and he has rightly been recognised for that.”
The Premier League’s latest push to challenge racism both within football and away from the game comes in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests around the world following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May.
Footballers in England have held their own peaceful protests since the Premier League returned to action in June, with players continuing to take a knee ahead of every top-flight fixture during the new campaign.
And while in-stadium incidents of abuse tend to create the most headlines, the English top-flight is also aiming to target online racial abuse, with Tammy Abraham and Wilfried Zaha just some of the high-profile names to have been targeted over the past 18 months.
The Premier League is also pushing to increase opportunities for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) coaches while providing free resources to educate children on inclusion and diversity through the ‘Premier League Primary Stars’ programme.
For ex-Nigeria international Ameobi, the pain of being racially abused himself has helped fuel his fight to ensure the next generation find working in football and wider society easier than he did.
“I came from a deprived area myself in Newcastle and I now go into those areas with the [Newcastle United] Foundation, you talk on these issues and it is something that I have always been passionate about,” he added.
“There are things that happened to me as a player early in my career. I look back on playing for England in the Under-21s in Albania. You had to deal with those things, I remember Shaun Wright-Phillips being really affected by it.
“I think that this can’t be right and from that point, I have always wanted to talk about it, certainly within my club and community here.
The impact has to happen in the Premier League nationally and locally. The more others do the same, then it can only be good.
“The players are now feeling more comfortable to address this and raise the discussion. It is important because people realise what the footballers are dealing with online, which is racial hate. It then allows us to talk about why a 12-year-old can feel comfortable enough to abuse Wilfred Zaha in his direct messages.
“That is ignorance on this topic. We must continue, despite the setbacks we see, to educate the next generation. We are launching these initiatives with the clear aim to make these issues a priority in our education system so they are available to primary school children.
“The preconception is that if you are on a football pitch in the Premier League that everything is rosey and nothing affects you, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. When players and ex-players talk about how racism feels, it allows people to empathise with what they are going through.
“It isn’t just the players but then their whole families who suffer with it. That in itself, I believe, has a huge impact on people that are watching. These players are idolised throughout the world so what they say matters.
“It is good they have support from the Premier League and different government bodies to feel protected, report and get help on these issues.”