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A Newsletter.

O Rei (The King) - Pelé The Brazilian Phenom
by Chika Dunga.

"There are parts of the world where Jesus is not so well known." - Pelé (in response to his fame compared to that of Jesus).
This week we take a look at the man, the legend, the confusion (I mean have you seen his tweets) that is Pelé.  Pelé is considered the greatest soccer player in modern history, taking his ginga style of play to the international level and responsible for fans renaming soccer, "The Beautiful Game." His existence on and off the field, continues to generate a broader discussion about the racial and economic politics of Brazil. 
Pelé Explained in 5 minutes

Who is He?
Pelé is widely considered by football writers, players, and fans as the GOAT (greatest of all time) in soccer history. He turned pro at 16, and was playing internationally by 17. He turned 18 during the 1958 World Cup, where he went on to lead Brazil to their first World Cup victory beating Sweden 5 -2 on European soil. What were you doing at 18? Well, I was facebook stalking when I should’ve been writing papers.

17 year old Pelé in Sweden before the 1958 World Cup

What’s he known for?
He’s the most successful league goal scorer in the world with 1,281 goals in 1,363 games -- including the only player to have 3 World Cup Titles; his first also being Brazil’s first. FIFA has a cool mini documentary focused on his life (beware of the comments sections though, very pro Messi and Ronaldo). Pele is responsible for making the ginga style of soccer, a style popular among Afro Brazilians, mainstream in Brazil. He’s also known for his rather obtuse statements and reviled by many for his patronage of the Brazilian government and apolitical stance towards Brazil’s racial, income inequality, and political issues.

He’s a national treasure
Brazilian politics is comically perplexing. If you read the last newsletter, you’re familiar with the technicolor country’s obsession for European validation. Pele’s prowess on the pitch attracted top European teams, which terrified the fragmented Brazilian government. Pele’s departure for greener pastures would hurt the country’s reputation. Why would they ever let him go? To prevent him from crossing the Atlantic, the current president at the time passed a law deeming Pele a national treasure, preventing him from being transferred out of the country. His entire career was played in his homeland -- quite different from today’s model.

Pele seems like a good guy. Why do some people not like him?
Well, critics say that Pelé allowed himself to be used as a political pawn at the expense of millions of poor Brazilians of color. He’s known for his apolitical stance towards Brazil’s racial inequality, income inequality, and political issues. He’s also criticized for indirectly evangelizing Brazil’s myth of a democratia racia (racial democracy) by his outspoken belief that “All Brazilians are treated the same.” Many are angered and surprised by his position because Pelé grew up in poverty. Our guy couldn’t even afford a soccer ball and learned to play with a stuffed newspaper. You’d think he’d be a champion of the poor right? Nope. Instead he says things like, “Let’s forget about this mess that is happening in Brazil and let’s think about the national team which is our country and our blood.”

Soccer isn't food. A popular political cartoon right before the 2014 World Cup in Rio De Janeiro

Well he’s just one person. We’re all entitled to our viewpoints
The age old debate -- should highly visible individuals use their platforms to bring awareness to issues that affect their communities? Pele is a dark skinned Brazilian that is not only a multi - millionaire but an international house hold name. If not for soccer, his life would have been very different. Black and brown Brazilians make up 50% of the population but 78% live below the poverty line and only 4% between the ages of 18 - 24 have attended university due to the majority having less than 11 years of formal schooling. Darker skinned Brazilians think they’ve found their Muhammad Ali, But Pelé’s just like “I’m not black, I’m OJ.”

Brazil Explained - “Não vai ter Copa!” (“There will be no Cup!”)
Understanding the paradox of Pele, requires the contextual history of his homeland, Brazil. Brazil is a beautiful country, rich with culture and its multiethnic society parallels its diverse topography. But like all countries, there are parts its leaders wish to remain hidden. Persistent racial and income inequality and political graft have been it’s achilles heel.

The 2014 World Cup in Rio was the most expensive one to date, costing a whopping $11 billion. However the costs go beyond money. Lives and communities were destroyed and critics argue that Brazil had (and still has) more pressing issues in creating access to healthcare, public transportation, education, and security. But, soccer isn’t just a beloved pastime. It’s a political tool used to evince positional superiority with European powers. Remember, Brazilian elites have an underdog mentality towards Europe. It’s for this reason their 1958 first World Cup victory won on European soil (team lead by Pele) made a statement to the world. And conversely their 2014,  7-1 loss to Germany on Brazilian soil was a complete humiliation on the global stage.

O Rei du Futbol (The King of Soccer)
Despite the controversy, none can deny Pelé’s contributions to the beautiful game and his iconic status in modern Brazilian and global history. He glamorously ended his career with the New York Cosmos, signing a 3 year deal that made him in the highest paid athlete in the world. Off the pitch, FIFA named him “Co - Player of the Century” along with Diego Maradona. The International Olympic Committee named him Athlete of the Century -- although he never participated in the Olympics. He’s won an International Peace Award with Unicef, served as Brazil’s Extraordinary (yep extraordinary) Minister for Sport, a United Nations ambassador, and received many other notable awards. 

Pele ended his career cashing out with the New York Cosmos

Fact or Myth:
Two factions in the Nigerian Civil War agreed to a 48 hour ceasefire to watch Pele play in a exhibition game in Lagos. Pele says fact. Experts say myth. Yes, Pele did play in 1969 during Nigeria’s civil war, but the story about the ceasefire may be exaggerated.

Want More Pele?
Check out the 2016 biopic, Pele: The Birth of Legend, that tells the story of his call to the national team and the 1958 World Cup. It’s been criticized for its lack of depth and flaws in its narrative, so don’t expert Christopher Nolanesqe “fact checking” accuracy. Nevertheless, it's a good watch. 

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what is this?
Welcome to the #NoPopcornMedia newsletter. I'm frustrated by the lack of high quality journalism and storytelling - especially around black focused content. So I decided to create my own newsletter with curated stories that I find interesting and I think you would too.  My hope is that these stories expand your world and act as a catalyst for your future. Maybe its traveling to new country, sowing an idea, or dating that guy/girl -- whatever it is, stories are bridges to new discoveries.  
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