John Barnes has praised Marcus Rashford after the Manchester United star spearheaded a campaign to provide 1.3 million vulnerable children with meals over the summer.
Liverpool legend Barnes believes more high-profile stars should use their platform to shine a light on inner-city social issues as opposed to ‘top end’ concerns like people from diverse backgrounds winning Oscars or sitting in boardrooms.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Barnes said: “If you have a platform, use your platform to talk about people less fortunate than yourself. Use your platform as he has done to talk about the community where he came from which has been disenfranchised and discriminated against.
“Unfortunately what we’ve seen a lot is a platform being used to talk about racism in Bulgaria when that doesn’t affect what goes on in this country.
“Or the fact that people can’t get Oscars or they don’t have black men in the boardroom for football clubs. Yes, that’s important but what’s more important is what’s going on in the inner-cities.
“I have to commend Marcus Rashford and high-profile, black or other sportsmen, celebrities, popstars, instead of talking about themselves, about how terrible it is for them because they can’t get an Oscar or get in a boardroom, to then say ‘let’s look at what’s going on in our inner-cities’.
“I’m glad that he’s talked about this, which is obviously the first step in terms of school dinners, but then imagine moving on to talk about education, housing, jobs. You can improve that, you can influence that, if they want to use their voice for that rather than just talking about themselves.
“Unfortunately he still plays for Manchester United but I’ll still give him a pat on the back!”
Rashford’s proposal for a six-week meal voucher for children currently not able to attend school but who claim free meals was initially rejected by the government.
However, increased pressure has led to a U-turn and a ‘COVID summer food fund’ has been created.
Barnes believes more needs to be done to tackle social issues at ground level to see meaningful change across society for all ‘disenfranchised’ communities regardless of ethnicity.
He said: “We’ve had this sort of social media platform now for more than a couple of years, but no-one has used their platform to talk about social issues.
“We’ve always spoken about it at the top end that we don’t have black people on television and winning Oscars and black managers but no-one has spoken about the black community and how they’ve been disenfranchised.
“Now this isn’t all about the black communities, it’s about the inner-city and disenfranchised communities generally, but I like to see this move a step forward to really talk about addressing issues in those communities where the players have come from.
To be honest with you, it’s not the role of footballers to do that, it’s the role of society and for us all to do it. But if footballers can because of their profile, all power to them.”
To celebrate the return of the Premier League, John Barnes is hosting a NOW TV Legend Watch Party for Everton v Liverpool.
To apply, visit nowtv.com/legendswatchalong. NOW TV is offering 64 Premier League matches (39 exclusively) via a Sky Sports Pass, for just £25 a month until 2nd July