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

Maro Itoje is a two-time British and Irish Lions tourist, having won seven major honors with Saracens. He also has three Six Nations Championships with England.
Jonah Lomu, Jonny Wilkinson, and Jonah Lomu are two notable exceptions to the rule, rugby union has never been able to produce crossover stars with true global appeal. But Maro Itoje seems like he is trying to change that trend.

Itoje, a 26-year-old forward for the Saracens and England, British & Irish Lions, is well-known on the field for his boundless energy and ability to pop up anywhere. Itoje is one of the most prominent figures in British sport.

Itoje is a force for change, hosts podcasts, fights for black rights and finds time to model for major fashion labels and promote African history.

Perhaps once in Britain, a black athlete had to just keep his head down and play the game. Itoje is now part of that generation.

From Tatler to African art

Itoje, Camden-born, is 6 feet 5in tall. He has a reputation of turning anything he touches into success. This includes winning European Player of Year at the age of 21 and inspiring whole stadiums of Lions supporters to sing "ohhh Maro Itoje!" in New Zealand.

He's turning many into success beyond sport, signing last year with Roc Nation - Jay-Z’s sports management agency. This agency also manages Marcus Rashford, Manchester United footballer.

It is impossible to say that all England rugby players have always been passionate about fashion and style, but Itoje certainly is.

He was featured on Tatler's cover in 2018 alongside Lady Amelia Windsor, a third cousin to the Duke of Cambridge & Duke of Sussex.

He told GQ that he was heavily influenced by the style of the '90s. "I grew up watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World a lot, and I also listened to Bobby Brown, Tevin Campbell, and other music. They were all so stylish, and I want to be like them.

Marks & Spencer clearly took notice of the Nigerian-British athlete and made him the face for their latest campaign.

Itoje, whose parents emigrated from Nigeria to London, is also interested in the arts. He is one of the most physically demanding athletes in the world, but he has a great eye for beauty.

He presented A History Untold at London’s Signature African Art Gallery in May. It featured work from six diaspora and African artists.

This exhibition was a huge success and helped educate about historical African contributions to society in areas such as mathematics and metallurgy, which are often neglected in European culture.

The athlete activist

Itoje is clearly a person who wants to educate the British. He is clearly not a spectator in an age where there are many athletes activists like Coco Gauff, Lewis Hamilton and Colin Kaepernick.

The Londoner was made a patron of The Black Curriculum in 2015, a social enterprise that fills in gaps in current UK education curriculums by teaching black British history throughout the year.

Itoje, England's teammate, and Anthony Watson spoke out on issues of race in society in the BBC Rugby Union Weekly podcast. This podcast was broadcast in 2020 by the BBC Rugby Union Weekly.

Itoje participated in a Black Lives Matter march last year in London, following the death of George Floyd in the United States. He also collaborated with afro Caribbean charities to create lasting change.

He said that "We are taking a more harsher and better look at racism" on the BBC Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

"Hearing someone speak to you with headphones on is a sign that they don't understand you." Only when they take off the headphones can you communicate.

Itoje also started and hosted his own podcast in 2020, The Pearl Conversations. He chatted to Alastair Campbell, Eni Aluko, and Ric Lewis, who are the 2019 Powerlist's most influential black Briton.

Aluko, a former England footballer, joined Itoje for his podcast to talk about, among other topics, Nigerian heritage, and the development and growth of the women's soccer game.

Political thinker

Itoje is hinting at another love, politics. Campbell was included in the podcast series.

He said, "I come form a household that is not necessarily involved in politics, but they are very opinionated on certain issues," Nick Robinson stated during Nick Robinson's Political Thinking podcast. "My brother is very politically-minded, and my sister is also. We have constant discussions with our parents and ourselves.

Itoje was more than just a family dinner table conversation. After receiving a scholarship from Harrow, Itoje studied political science at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

One of the most politically engaged British sportspeople of today, he has spoken out against male patriarchy and criticised this year's government-commissioned Sewell Report on race and ethnic disparity.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing severe disruption to children's education over the past two-years, Itoje organized a device donation drive in February to encourage people to donate their spare tablets to families in dire need.

Itoje has been inspiring young pitch players for over a decade and his boundless energy continues to make waves in other fields.