Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, who helped raise millions of dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic to help feed children in England, will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2021 ESPYS on July 10.
Rashford, who has spoken about his reliance on free school meals and “kind actions” from neighbors and coaches when he was growing up, was recently named to Time’s Top 100 List for his advocacy work on homelessness and child hunger.
“An athlete is the least we can be,” Rashford said. “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 honored to be this year’s recipient of the Pat Tillman Award. A huge thank you to all involved.”
Rashford made headlines across the world when he took the British government to task on child hunger in the first months of the COVID-19 crisis. In the United Kingdom, low-income families with children qualify for free school meals, ensuring children have a hot lunch (and sometimes breakfast) at school at no cost.
When the pandemic hit, many working families saw their income fall 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 school closures. The government initially refused to help, but Rashford wrote an open letter to members of Parliament, calling for support. The letter drew huge media coverage and led to the government reversing course.
Last October, the British government rejected a motion to extend the free school meals provision. But Rashford rallied the support of a number of donors to continue supporting children while once again petitioning the government. Once again, he was successful in helping to secure a £400 million ($556 million) grant to provide meals well into 2021, impacting the lives of 1.7 million children in the UK.
In April, the United and England striker 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 U.K. and Scotland.
Said Marie Tillman, board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation: “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 U.K. 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.”
The Pat Tillman Award for Service sponsored by MassMutual, established in 2014 to commemorate the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger’s legacy, honors an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes Tillman’s legacy. Tillman left the NFL to serve in the military in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed in April 2004 while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan.
Past honorees of the Pat Tillman Award for Service include U.S. Paralympic gold-medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014); 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); 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); Kristie Ennis, former Marine and founder of the Kristie Ennis Foundation (2019); and health care worker and boxing champion Kim Clavel (2020).