Manager Gareth Southgate says he is “tremendously proud” of how his England players have spoken out on racism and campaigned for charity in recent times.
Jordan Henderson led a players’ initiative to raise money for the NHS, while Marcus Rashford has worked with a charity that helps feed children.
Southgate said he has “great admiration for the maturity they are showing”.
“We have group of players who understand they have an opportunity to make a difference – that their voices are heard – but they do that with some responsibility as well,” Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“If you believe in something strongly enough and have the opportunity to make a difference then that is something you have to grasp.”
Southgate has spoken to BBC Radio 5 Live in a wide-ranging interview, which will be broadcast at 19:00 BST on Tuesday. In it he discusses football’s fight against racism, how he has kept up with his England players during lockdown and how football can respond after the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking this week following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent anti-racism protests across the world, Manchester City forward Sterling said progress in the fight against racism will only come in football when more black players become managers.
Southgate said there have been “forward strides” in the global fight against racism but “huge steps” are still needed.
“I think this crosses over all professions really,” he said.
“I have always been in a dressing room where a high percentage of the dressing room were black so I didn’t know anything different until I stepped out of that environment.
“I wasn’t as conscious of it as I have become over the last few years.
“I think yes, we should as a sport talk about opportunities for coaches and managers but there is also administration and many other areas of the game where we employ people in analysis departments and medical departments.
“We should have representation across all of those areas.”
Southgate ‘always observing’ players breaking lockdown rules
While Southgate praised many of his players’ actions during lockdown, he also said he and his staff are “always observing” those who have broken rules.
Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker, Borussia Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho and Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount are among the English players to have broken lockdown rules or government guidance.
“I never judge a player or person on one interaction or one error of judgement, we are all human and we all err at times, but I would also add I don’t miss a lot, as a group of staff we don’t miss a lot,” Southgate said.
“You are always building a picture of a person, a player, whether they can fit into the culture you want.
“We would also be away for 40-50 days at a tournament and people have to be able to fit into that environment.”
‘Video calls have changed my life’
Southgate said the last time he met with his squad was November’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo but he has spoken to “pretty much all” of his “30-plus” players during lockdown using online video calls.
He said learning to use the video calls had “changed his life” and will be something he uses in the future, even after the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know some people will have been using it brilliantly for a long time – I wasn’t in that group,” Southgate said.
“It is an area we can be more efficient in as a coaching team moving forward and keep that more regular contact with the players a little bit more personal.”
Southgate said he will not be able to attend games when the Premier League returns behind closed doors on 17 June but will still assess players using video footage.
He also expressed caution about calls for Premier League clubs to give money to support lower-league clubs who struggle financially after the pandemic.
He said the sport may have to consider reducing the number of professional clubs in the future.
“I think every industry is going to look at what model works for them going forward and we might have to be creative in the way these things are run,” Southgate said.
“There is obviously a desire within the game for support to filter through the pyramid but a lot of those Premier League owners have other businesses that will also be struggling and so there are consequences for everybody.”