Marcus Rashford doesn't need the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award, but their award needs him. They've made a terrible mistake in omitting him from the shortlist.
The announcement that they'll be giving the Manchester United striker his own special award on December 20 doesn't change that. You know what would be a really special award? Sports Personality of the Year so he could follow in the footsteps of Moore, Botham, Coe and Christie and in years to come people could look back and see that this was what greatness looked like in 2020.
They've left Rashford off the shortlist because they know if the British public got a chance they'd vote for him in their droves. And apparently that just wouldn't do. "The criteria for selecting nominees for the shortlist is, and always has been, centred around sporting achievement," said a BBC spokesperson after the list was released on Wednesday.
Proper order. Standards have to be maintained. It's not as though there was anything out of the ordinary about this year. Imagine that this day 12 months ago you'd been transported forward a year and plonked in front of a TV showing Sky Super Sunday. It would be like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Why are there no spectators? Why is everyone on the sideline wearing a surgical mask? Why are the players performing this strange kneeling ritual on the pitch?
The sporting world has been turned upside down this year to an extent nobody could have foreseen. Covid-19 is the major contributor to this state of affairs but the upsurge in activism led by Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd's killing by the police also has a lot to do with it.
The combination of both means that we live in a very different world to the one we inhabited a year ago. Old certainties have been shaken to the extent that saying 'is, and always has been,' is not much of an explanation anymore.
Giving Rashford the main award would have indicated a recognition of the way things have changed. Because the work of this remarkable 23-year-old encompassed both the fight against Covid and the struggle against racism.
During the lockdown in England the footballer's partnership with the charity Fare Share enabled three million children to be provided with food packages. But that wasn't enough for Rashford who noted "whilst 1.3 million children are registered for free school meals, one quarter of these children have not been given any support since the school closures were ordered."
So he took the next step forward by campaigning for the British Government to continue the provision of free school meals during school holidays, pointing out that many parents "have seen their jobs evaporate due to Covid-19."
Rashford's campaigning forced Boris Johnson into a u-turn, but it hasn't stopped there. Last month he pressured the Conservative Government into performing another volte-face. This time they were forced to change their mind on providing free school meals over the Christmas period and announce a £170m Covid Winter Fund to help families in need.
In a year like no other, here was a sporting hero like no other. And Rashford's willingness to intervene in the political arena was surely influenced by the sea change which followed Floyd's death in May.
The extent of the reaction caught many people by surprise. Strange though it seems at this remove, Marcus Thuram's decision to take a knee after scoring for Borussia Monchengladbach against Union Berlin six days after the killing in Minneapolis was an unexpected gesture.
Now it seems wholly natural for Premier League players to briefly take a knee before every match in solidarity with the victims of racism and those who campaign against it. This is merely the most visible manifestation of a phenomenon which saw a host of black sports stars speak out about what they'd endured on and off the pitch merely because of the colour of their skin. When you saw the anger, controlled though it was, of a normally mild-mannered man like cricket legend Michael Holding it became clear that a kind of reckoning was taking place with something which had been allowed to persist for too long. It also became clear that things could not go back to the way they were.
So, 2020 has been the year of Black Lives Matter as well as the year of Covid-19. Both changed the sporting world. But by snubbing Rashford the BBC have sent out a 'business as usual' message which couldn't be more inappropriate.
The awards programme itself with its inevitably celebratory tone seems slightly odd given the way England in particular has suffered due to Covid-19 (and government blundering there means they've suffered more than most countries.) Elevating Rashford could have dignified the award by giving it meaning and purpose. The BBC have missed an open goal.
Should it matter to us here given that it's not our national broadcaster?
It should. Because failing to recognise the extraordinary nature of what has happened this year will lead to the kind of complacency which ensures that in the end change is barely skin deep. Child poverty and racism are universal problems.
Look at what's happened over the last week. Anton Ferdinand took part in a BBC documentary about the incident nine years ago when he was racially abused by John Terry. His manager with QPR at the time, Neil Warnock, told how FA investigators had treated Ferdinand as though he was the guilty party. Meanwhile, the investigators laughed and joked with Terry while questioning him.
You'd have thought that, given all that's happened over the last year, Terry might have welcomed the chance to put the record straight and apologise to Ferdinand. But he didn't deign to appear on the programme at all.
Terry has also been in the news this past week because he's tipped to move on from his assistant's berth at Aston Villa to get the main job at Derby County. For all the station's ostentatious declarations of support for Black Lives Matter, no-one at Sky seems to feel his behaviour towards Ferdinand both at the time and since should be a disqualifying factor.
Manchester United selected Edinson Cavani against Paris St Germain and declared their support for the player as he's being investigated for using a racial slur on social media.
Fans who were all outrage when Luis Suarez called Patrice Evra "negrito" are now deciding that Suarez was telling the truth when he said it was a Uruguayan term of affection.
For many football fans, anti-racism merely functions as a stick with which to beat their enemies. rather than something which has to be taken seriously.
Over in Argentina they removed the captaincy of the national rugby team from Pablo Matera and suspended him and two of his teammates for using racist language on Twitter between 2011 and 2013. That was on Tuesday. On Thursday they reversed the decision after protests by rugby players and clubs all around the country.
"All I can say about these three fine players and great men is that they are great human beings," said their manager Mario Ledesma. The Argentinian Rugby Union described the trio as "men with firm values."
The same 'let's not get carried away' attitude was obvious in the cases of Terry, Cavani and Matera. You wonder how much has really been learned this year. The BBC are also being careful not to get carried away. Perhaps the political embarrassment which a public vote for Rashford would cause Johnson and his cohorts is not far from their minds either.
On the same day as the Argentinian u-turn, Rafer Johnson died in his native California at the age of 86. Like Marcus Rashford he was a great black athlete, winning the decathlon at the 1960 Olympics. Like Marcus Rashford he was a great human being, who in 1969 was one of the founding members of the Special Olympics movement. Like Marcus Rashford he was a brave man, who in 1968 helped to subdue the assassin of Robert Kennedy.
Rafer Johnson had been drawn to the Kennedy campaign by the opposition to racism which RFK had demonstrated as Attorney General. Yet during the 1968 primary campaign some of Kennedy's aides came to see that anti-racism as an electoral liability. They wondered if the candidate could tone it down because pollsters found that quite a few voters were fed up hearing about the issue. As far as these voters were concerned blacks had been given their chance and it was time to move on.
Just four years after the Civil Rights Act and already there were worries this anti-racism stuff might be going too far. The past few days have shown this mindset has not gone away. Will we ever learn?
In dismissing Rashford's claims to the top award the BBC echoed those keyboard warriors whose reaction to the player's activism is that it would be more in his line to score a few extra goals. By doing so they've made 'sporting achievement' seem a pretty mean and limited thing.