(CNN)With his unerring professionalism in the ring and philanthropic mission out of it, Anthony Joshua perfectly embodies the modern athlete.
It’s a philosophy that’s been mirrored by England and Manchester City star Raheem Sterling, who has emerged as football’s unofficial spokesperson in the battle against racism — calling out the media and governing bodies for a lack of action.
“I feel like our parents’ generation has been sleeping to a certain degree, conditioned to be scared to speak up about certain issues,” Joshua told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell, commenting about the increase in athletes speaking out.
“They [current athletes] are now becoming smarter, wiser and sharper and being able to discuss their situation.”
Praise for Sterling
Sterling and his England teammates were subjected to racist abuse during a Euro 2020 qualifying match in Montenegro in March and Juventus’ teenage striker Moise Kean endured monkey chants from opposition fans in May.
Recently, English Premier League striker Troy Deeney joined Sterling in a 24-hour boycott of social media platforms, in protest against the lack of action being taken in response to racism.
Deeney also felt it necessary to turn off comments on his Instagram posts due to abuse he received in April.
“To me this isn’t a game, when you racially abuse my family or myself I have to take measures to prevent young people seeing these comments and thinking that it’s acceptable,” said Deeney on social media.
The 30-year-old is close friends with Joshua due to their respective associations with Watford — Joshua is from the town and Deeney captains the current side.
“The guys are getting a lot smarter. It’s not just about kicking a football anymore and being a good footballer, it’s about being an ambassador of football,” Joshua said, speaking about those players who have taken on a more activist role.
‘My natural instinct would be to punch him’
Joshua was born in Watford, just outside London, to Nigerian parents, and the African country has been a strong influence throughout his life.
The fighter has a tattoo of Africa etched on his right shoulder, with Nigeria visibly outlined.
Given his physical presence, would be racists might think twice before abusing Joshua. Turns out though the boxer would be more interested in using words rather his hands in dealing with any such flashpoint.
“If someone is racist to me as a boxer, my natural instinct would be to punch him in his face and kick him while he’s down,” he said.
“But what I am going to do is speak to you about who I am, where I’ve come from and what my lineage is about.
“I want to show you why the names and the slurs that you call me have no relevance to who I am as a person.”
‘Try to educate them’
History shows a plethora of athletes using their platforms to call for change, not least in boxing where Muhammad Ali set a precedent for all others to follow.
However, Joshua believes easy access to information is helping the new generation of athlete ambassadors find their voice and share it more efficiently.
“I just feel it’s just a lack of understanding and knowledge,” he said.
“What you shouldn’t do is look at the people who are racist and belittle them, you take them under your wing and try to educate them.”
“It’s not just about what someone’s telling you, it’s about what you’ve researched as well so you can counter the argument.”