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15 Jul, 2021 14:01

Marcus Rashford hailed for ‘twice taking on UK government’ as football star collects award for service in honor of late US soldier

Marcus Rashford hailed for ‘twice taking on UK government’ as football star collects award for service in honor of late US soldier

Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford has been lauded for "using his platform" to challenge the UK government over food benefits, winning a service award named after an ex-NFL player who died in Afghanistan.

Days after suffering heartbreak and racial abuse following his unsuccessful penalty in England's Euro 2020 final defeat, social campaigner Rashford has picked up his latest accolade in the form of an American ESPY Award recognizing the millions of dollars he raised to help feed children in England during the pandemic.

The 23-year-old posed in a fashionable suit as he familiarized himself with his trophy, winning the Pat Tillman Award, which is named after the NFL star who turned down a new contract with the Arizona Cardinals worth well over $1 million a year to join the US Army shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"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," said Marie Tillman, the board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation, speaking after Rashford's name was added to a list of winners that includes Navy marines and Iraq War veterans.

"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.

"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."

Those formative years of his own came in the Manchester suburb of Withington, where crowds descended on a mural of the footballer earlier this week, celebrating Rashford through demonstrations that included Black Lives Matter placards.

The repainted mural had been defaced following the Euro 2020 final, when Rashford also received racial abuse online.

"An athlete is the least we can be," Rashford said in response to winning the award.

"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."

Boris Johnson's UK government had initially decided to end a free school meals campaign in October before Rashford publicly appealed to them, helping to secure a $556 million grant to provide meals well into this year which is expected to impact the lives of around 1.7 million children.

"When we wake up in the morning, we decide what we want to do with that platform," said Rashford. "The reward of helping just one will always outweigh the risk of any negativity or criticism thrown my way."

Other ESPY winners included tennis star Naomi Osaka, who won the Best Athlete, Women's Sports category, and NFL superstar Tom Brady.

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