LONDON (Reuters) - Premier League footballers looking to do their bit during the coronavirus crisis have been painted as villains by the government and media, according to Burnley captain Ben Mee.
Britain's Health Minister Matt Hancock sparked a debate last week when he said Premier League players must "play their part" and take a pay cut while the league is suspended so that the clubs' non-playing staff are not furloughed.
Former England captain Wayne Rooney said it was a "desperate" attempt to divert attention from the government's handling of the pandemic and Professional Footballers' Association chief Gordon Taylor has defended the players.
"The criticism of footballers from those in the media and government has been unhelpful," Mee wrote in a column for The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/apr/09/premier-league-footballers-players-together-fund-ben-mee-burnley-captain-people-needlessly-tried-to-make-villains-of-us.
"Bad press comes with the territory of being in a high-profile profession - these things make for easier headlines than the constant community and charitable work we do all over the globe.
"But as we've worked hard to do our part, those headlines have created a distraction, needlessly trying to make villains out of footballers, rather than... praising the great work of key workers who are putting themselves at risk to help others."
Premier League players have since launched a fund -- their own collective initiative -- to raise money for National Health Service (NHS) charities to help tackle the crisis.
Mee said that although the players are well paid, most are from working-class backgrounds and want to give back to their communities.
"There has been great collective urgency to help in any way possible, while at the same time ensuring our funds are directed to the places that are most needed," Mee added.
"Naturally, such a complex matter needs time to sort, but our frank discussions always had the same purpose: to help in any way we can.
"Every player has a story of how coronavirus has impacted upon their country and many are sending money back to their own nations, which is the right thing to do."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond)