Juan Mata Says Players Shouldn’t Stick To Football, Praises Megan Rapinoe

Should footballers stick to soccer or should they use their platform to promote their beliefs? Would your answer be different if the footballer was trying to promote a particular religion, clothing line or political view, or if those beliefs differ from your own? How about speaking up for social issues? Where do you draw the line?

Juan Mata, for one, doesn’t think an athlete should be pigeonholed into only talking about his or her sport. 

Mata, the 31-year-old Manchester United midfielder, spoke with ESPN FC recently, in part discussing the charity he helped found, Common Goal. The organization asks soccer players, coaches and officials to donate one percent of their salaries that then go to soccer-related charities around the world. 

Mata is trying to make the world a better place, a noble aim. But he doesn’t understand why many fans say athletes should not espouse opinions that don’t relate to sports. 

“There are still people who think: Why are these footballers talking about other things?” Mata said. “Why not? That’s my point of view: Why not? 

“To be honest, it feels like in football there are still many people only judging by the result, or you only have the right opinion if you win. Not necessarily it has to be like that. Raheem (Sterling), Hector (Bellerin), whoever speaks out, they can have bad days in a game, they can lose games, but they still have this value and personality and they still have the pride to speak about what they think.”

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While Mata has mostly been praised for founding Common Goal, there are others who have been excoriated for trying to make Earth a more equal and fairer planet for all.

In the ESPN FC interview, Mata spoke about a fellow member of Common Goal, USWNT star Megan Rapinoe. After the 34-year-old winger inspired the United States to victory at the Women’s World Cup this summer (she won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball), Rapinoe gained a legion of fans not just for her play on the field but her willingness to fight to make the world a better place for all. 

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In doing so, Rapinoe has also become hated by people who would prefer she just shut up and dribble, something that is rarely shouted at Mata.

Mata said Rapinoe’s ability to excel at the highest level of her sport and speak out for things she believes in shows what can be achieved by footballers who have passions beyond what happens on the pitch.

“She was scoring every game also and they won the World Cup, so you can do it,” Mata said. “Obviously, what’s more important in my life now is my professional career — obviously my family but then my professional career. I know I need to be ready when I have to play, when I have to train and that’s my focus. 

“But after that, if you have time to do other things and you’re generally passionate about football and society and about how to use the power of football to try to make society a bit more fair, then you can do it and that’s what we’re doing.”

Some will disagree and think social issues have no place in sports, but sports and politics/social issues have always been intertwined. It’s up to the viewer/reader to either embrace or ignore this aspect of soccer, because athletes aren’t going to be silenced. 

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