"Prem Ace's Secret Charity Work Exposed" “Goalscoring Prodigy Blows Month’s Salary on Food Bank Donation” “England Star Caught Leaving Hospital After Visiting Unwell Children”
These are newspaper headlines about footballers that you will most likely never see, as it doesn’t fit the typical media narrative about them. Instead, they have often presented a negative portrayal of footballers’ behaviour and attitude.
The true picture is very different.
Our trusted charity and community partner All Heart, who help players at all levels support good causes, are frequently highlighting cases to us of the amazing work footballers do for their communities. All Heart founder Leanne Ayin described her experience working alongside them; “Football players, and their families, are often incredibly generous and enjoy supporting many charities as well as using their platforms to share important messages and increase awareness.” However, these acts don’t get put in the spotlight. Players often prefer to be very discreet, so the media get to choose what in their lives they will bring to the public’s attention.
When players do share the issues they are helping with to a wider audience, usually to encourage further support, they can receive accusations and criticism that they are only doing it for positive publicity. Former Man City defender Micah Richards is one of those that faced a backlash online after revealing he was donating £50,000 to mental health charities to help counter the impact of a second lockdown in the UK.
A campaign led by Marcus Rashford ensured more than £300 million was promised to help feed over 1 million underprivileged children (Marcus Rashford blog). Yet even he has been criticised by some in the media despite carefully ensuring there was no political angle to his appeal. This is very unfair, as the media have the power to use their platform to build a distorted and unfavourable image of players, but those players have been afraid to use theirs to counter the false stereotypes with a more accurate reflection of reality.
Pandemic Shining a Light On Players Positive Impact
The majority of footballers originate from very humble backgrounds and have reached a fortunate position through lots of hard work, sacrifice and some luck. They are very keen to use the opportunity they’ve earned to improve the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. Plus, a successful career doesn’t prevent experiencing suffering and difficulties. As Ayin highlighted, “What is often forgotten is that despite some making a lot of money, many have also been affected by ill health, loss, discrimination and hardship themselves so feel drawn to give their support to specific causes that are close to their hearts.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated players’ social conscience and their efforts to make a difference. There are too many examples to mention, but here are a few that All Heart highlighted. As soon as the pandemic started to hit Europe in March 2020, David De Gea anonymously donated €300,000 to the local government in Madrid to fight Covid-19. It only became public when the president of the region thanked him on Twitter. Around the same time Wilfred Zaha, who is known to donate 10% of his wages to charity, offered the use of 50 properties to NHS workers. This was shortly followed by a fund set up by Premier League players called #PlayersTogether to raise money for NHS charities.
Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin, known for his good deeds around the city, donated Nintendo video game consoles to local primary school children to cheer them up in what has been a difficult time for young people. He previously sent 60 care packages to support key workers that included special gifts and treats.
During the last year, we’ve also seen players use their high-profile positions to speak out against discrimination in football and wider society, particularly racism and homophobia. The England team have been one example of this and have faced criticism for promoting their message of equality and inclusion. These are just the tip of the iceberg of the positive actions that players carry out. All Heart’s unique position supporting players mean they see the good deeds they do every day.
With over 500 professional footballers in the Premier League alone, it is inevitable some will make mistakes, though these have often been misrepresented or exaggerated in the press. If the public were presented a fair and accurate representation of players' actions, then they would understand that as a group they are exemplary role models who make a significant positive contribution to our society.