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Maro Itoje: Rugby union star, art promoter, activist, political thinker

Maro Itoje is a rugby union player who plays at lock for England and Saracens. He has been touted as the best young player in the world, and was an integral part of England winning their first Grand Slam since 2003. His rise from playing club rugby to international prominence has been meteoric, but his path to success was not without its struggles.

Maro Itoje has seven major titles with Saracens, three Six Nations titles with England, and is a two-time British and Irish Lions tourist.

With the noteworthy exceptions of Jonah Lomu and Jonny Wilkinson, rugby union has traditionally failed to produce crossover players with genuine global appeal, but Maro Itoje seems to be defying the pattern.

On the field, the 26-year-old Saracens, England, and British & Irish Lions forward is renowned for popping up everywhere and having limitless enthusiasm, and it is this same energy that makes Itoje one of British sport’s most significant characters off the field.

Itoje not only pushes politicians to act, conducts podcasts, and works for black rights, but she also models for high-end fashion labels and promotes African heritage and art.

Perhaps in the past, black athletes in the United Kingdom had no option but to keep their heads down and play the game, but Itoje is part of a generation that is doing exactly the opposite.

From Tatler to African art, there’s something for everyone.

Itoje, who was born in Camden and is 6ft 5in tall, has a reputation for turning everything he touches into gold, from winning European Player of the Year at the age of 21 to motivating whole stadiums of Lions supporters in New Zealand to chant “ohhh Maro Itoje.”

He has found success outside of athletics as well, having signed with Roc Nation, Jay-sports Z’s management firm, which also represents Manchester United player Marcus Rashford.

While it is impossible to say that all England rugby players have a love for style and design in the past, Itoje certainly does.

He appeared on the cover of Tatler in 2018 with Lady Amelia Windsor, the Duke of Cambridge’s third cousin, and has posed for Ralph Lauren on many occasions.

He told GQ, “I’ve always been strongly inspired by the aesthetic you’d see in the ’90s.” “I grew up watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World and listening to Bobby Brown and Tevin Campbell on the radio. They were all very well-dressed, and I want to emulate it now.”

Marks & Spencer has obviously noticed the Nigerian-British athlete, making him the face of their new marketing campaign.

Itoje, whose parents immigrated to London from Nigeria, is also fascinated by the arts. One of the world’s most physically tough sportsmen, yet with a keen sense for beauty.

In May, he opened A History Untold at London’s Signature African Art gallery, which included work by six African and diaspora artists.

The show was a huge success, and it helped educate people about past African contributions to civilization in fields like arithmetic and metallurgy, which are typically neglected in European culture.

Athlete turned activist

Itoje is obviously someone who wants to do all he can to aid education in the United Kingdom. He is not on the sidelines in the era of athlete activists like Colin Kaepernick, Coco Gauff, and Lewis Hamilton.

The Londoner became a patron of The Black Curriculum this year, a social business that seeks to fill in holes in the existing UK school curriculum by teaching black British history throughout the year.

England rugby players Maro Itoje, left, and Anthony Watson take a knee before a gameIn 2020, England teammates Itoje and Watson spoke on the Rugby Union Weekly podcast on racial problems in society.

Itoje joined a Black Lives Matter march in London last year in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in the United States, and worked with afro-Caribbean organizations to help bring about permanent change.

On the Rugby Union Weekly podcast at the time, he stated, “We’re taking a better, harder look at the issue of racism.”

“When you talk to someone with headphones on, they won’t be able to hear you. You won’t be able to converse until they take them off.”

In 2020, Itoje launched and produced his own podcast series, The Pearl Conversations, in which he spoke with people including Labour’s former director of communications Alastair Campbell, player Eni Aluko, and businessman Ric Lewis, who was named the most important black Briton in the 2019 Powerlist.

Eni Aluko celebrates a win at JuventusAluko, a sporting director and former England player, joined Itoje on his podcast to talk about Nigerian ancestry and the growth of the women’s game, among other topics.

Thinker on politics

Campbell’s participation in that podcast series alluded to another of Itoje’s major loves: politics, which he became interested in as a kid.

On Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast, he stated, “I come from a family that isn’t particularly in politics, but they are extremely outspoken about certain topics.” “My brother is extremely political, and my sister is even more so. We have constant debates between ourselves and with our parents.”

After winning a scholarship to Harrow, Itoje studied politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, which was more than just the occasional conversation around the family dinner table.

He has spoken out against male patriarchy and criticized the government-commissioned Sewell Report on racial and ethnic inequality this year, making him one of the most politically active British athletes today.

With the coronavirus epidemic wreaking havoc on children’s education for the last two years, Itoje spearheaded a gadget donation campaign in February to urge people to give extra tablets to families in need.

Itoje’s inexhaustible enthusiasm is now creating ripples outside of football, where he has been motivating the younger generation for over a decade.

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