Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford has raised millions in donations alongside food charity FareShare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having grown up the youngest of five children in one of the more deprived areas of Manchester, Rashford has spoken of his own experience of food poverty, saying he relied on free school meals and “the kind actions of neighbors and coaches.” Rashford was recently named to TIME’s Top 100 List for his advocacy work on homelessness and child hunger. For his dedication to helping feed those in need, Rashford will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service presented by MassMutual at The 2021 ESPYS airing July 10, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Said Rashford: “An athlete is the least we can be. Sport can be the biggest driver of positive change, with its ability to truly unite. If I have achieved anything over the last year I would hope that it would be to demonstrate to my peers what is possible when we are driven by a passion and determination for better. Better not for ourselves, but for those whose voices are very rarely heard. We have a platform to speak on behalf of millions. When we wake up in the morning, we decide what we want to do with that platform. The reward of helping just one will always outweigh the risk of any negativity or criticism thrown my way. I’m honoured to be this year’s recipient of the Pat Tillman Award. A huge thank you to all involved.”
Rashford became a household name in the UK beyond footballing circles when he took the British government to task on child hunger in the first months of the COVID-19 crisis. In the UK, low-income families with children qualify for free school meals, ensuring that they have a hot lunch (and sometimes breakfast) at school at no cost. When the pandemic hit, many of these working families saw their income fall further as a result of being laid-off or having their hours reduced, and were left struggling to feed their families during school holidays and extended closures in the pandemic. The government initially refused to help, but Rashford shamed them into doing so when he wrote an open letter to members of parliament, calling for support. Rashford said that he too would have been going hungry had this happened during his childhood, and that he was able to succeed thanks to a compassionate society. The letter drew huge media coverage, and led to the government making a U-turn on the issue.
While fundraising continued into the year, the British government once again rejected the motion to extend the free school meals provision in October. Despite that decision, Rashford rallied the support of a number of donors to continue supporting kids while once again petitioning the government. And once again, he was successful in helping to secure a £400 million grant to provide meals well into 2021, impacting the lives of 1.7 million kids in the UK. In April, Rashford announced the launch of the Marcus Rashford Book Club and a partnership with Macmillan Children’s Books to donate 390,000 books to underserved children in the UK and Scotland.
“Marcus raised millions and brought together a coalition of restaurants and groceries to ensure that vulnerable children and families had enough to eat as the pandemic closed off resources to them in Great Britain. But he didn’t stop there — he twice took on the UK government to extend food benefits to families and he won. He saw a wrong and used his platform to guide those around him to making it right,” said Marie Tillman Shenton, board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Marcus’ passion for ending child poverty, inspired by his own experiences with food insecurity, mirror Pat’s passion for leading by example and identifying where he could unite others to make an impact.”
The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to commemorate the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger’s legacy, and honoring an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Tillman’s legacy. Rashford will be presented with the award during The 2021 ESPYS in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which unites and empowers veterans and military spouses as the next generation of leaders. Past honorees include U.S. Paralympic gold medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014), and former Notre Dame basketball player, Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (2015), U.S. Army Sgt. and Invictus Games gold medalist Elizabeth Marks (2016), and Purple Heart recipient and Invictus Games gold medalist Israel Del Toro (2017), Navy-Marine Commendation Medal recipient, Sergeant and founder of Team Rubicon Jake Wood (2018), former Marine and founder of the Kristie Ennis Foundation, Kristie Ennis (2019) and healthcare worker and boxing champion Kim Clavel (2020).
The ESPYS helps to raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS back in 1993. ESPN has helped raise more than $134 million for the V Foundation over the past 28 years.
ABOUT THE PAT TILLMAN FOUNDATION
In 2002, Pat Tillman proudly put his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve his country. Family and friends established the Pat Tillman Foundation following Pat’s death in April 2004 while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. Created to honor Pat’s legacy of leadership and service, the Pat Tillman Foundation unites and empowers remarkable military veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self. For more information on the Pat Tillman Foundation and the impact of the Tillman Scholars, visit www.PatTillmanFoundation.org.