But now Gary Lineker has found himself at the centre of an unexpected race row over his latest lucrative advert for Walker’s crisps.
The commercial, which promotes the company’s new tie-in with KFC, has been deemed racist for perpetuating a negative stereotype of black people liking fried chicken.
The Match Of The Day presenter is the only white person to appear in the ad, which features a black barber and mixed-race twin women.
Even the owner of the diversity-championing modelling agency which supplied the extras has described the advert as ‘controversial’.
History experts say the notion that black people love fried chicken is a negative connotation that dates from the days of slavery in America.
During the 40-second advert, Lineker tucks into a packet of Kentucky Fried Chicken flavour crisps before the camera swoops through a the streets, alighting on two women sharing a bucket of KFC at a bus stop, and then into a barber shop.
There are 12 people in the street, and every one apart from Lineker, who reappears at the end of the commercial looking like Colonel Sanders, is from a black background.
In the advert for Walkers, Gary Lineker tucks into a packet of Kentucky Fried Chicken flavour crisps
Social-media users accused Walkers of racism, with one writing: ‘Wtf is this racial bullc*** advert? BOYCOTT WALKERS.’ Another wrote: ‘Walkers Crisps is so racist.’
Robert Wilson, owner of the London-based FOMO model agency, whose roster is mostly non-white talent, told how he was surprised when Walkers approached his company to request black and mixed-race people to appear in the advert, suggesting it was tokenism.
He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It’s controversial because you’ve got your white Gary Lineker who has fronted all the campaigns, and then a black barber and mixed-race twins. Even when the casting brief came through we were a bit like, “Hmmm, OK.”
‘We didn’t actually know that there was only going to be one obviously white guy, who is the face of the brand anyway. I think it’s a case of them trying to keep up with the trends, so to speak.’
Social-media users accused Walkers of racism the owner of the diversity-championing modelling agency which supplied the extras has described the advert as ‘controversial’
Every one of the 12 people in the street, other than Match of the Day host Lineker, come from a black background
Last year, Lineker renewed his links with Walkers in a three-year, £1.2 million deal. He has been working with the Leicester-based brand for 26 years and has appeared in 150 adverts.
But he is not the first sportsman to have landed in hot water over the ‘fried chicken’ stereotype.
In 2013, Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia sparked controversy after he was asked if he would ever invite rival Tiger Woods to dinner and replied: ‘We’ll have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken.’
Furious Woods responded on Twitter, writing: ‘The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate.’ Garcia later apologised.
According to Claire Schmidt, of the University of Missouri, the negative connotations of black people and fried chicken stem from the days when slaves in the southern United States would eat the dish as a cheap source of meat.
She said: ‘It’s a food you eat with your hands, and therefore it’s [seen as] dirty.’
Last August, Lineker, 60, temporarily housed a migrant at his London mansion, saying it had been ‘fascinating and a real education’ for him and his sons George, Harry, Tobias and Angus to host the man known only as Rasheed.
Walkers said: ‘The casting for all of our advertising reflects the diversity of the nation and our consumers. We are strongly committed to playing our part in pursuing racial and social justice.’