Arthur Friedenreich is one of the best soccer players of all time. He is known best for the insane amount of goals he scored. Less widely known is the fact that he had an important impact on issues of color race and class not only in Brazilian soccer but in the public realm as well. To better understand the impact that this man had, one must have some general knowledge about the history Brazilian society and class structure and the origins of football in Brazil. By placing the story of Arthur Friedenreich in its proper social and political context, this essay will attempt to argue that Arthur Friedenreich helped to open the doors for other black football players to make a name for themselves.
The land that would eventually become known as Brazil is generally believed to have been discovered by a Portuguese man by the name of Pedro Àlvares Cabral on April 22, 1500. Many of the indigenous people that inhabited the area at the time died from the hardships of forced labor, displacement and diseases brought by the Europeans; however, many of those that survived were absorbed into the Brazilian population. The rest of the colonial population was made up of Portuguese soldiers and landowners, other immigrants and African slaves. Brazil did not gain its independence from the Portuguese until September 7, 1822. The new country was ruled by a monarchy that lasted from 1822 until it was replaced by a Republican government in 1889.
Brazil was a melting pot of many different kinds of people ranging from natives to immigrants and from the rich, white ruling elite class to the imported black slaves. Slavery was not abolished until May 13, 1888 by the “Golden Law” decreed by Isabel the then current Princess Imperial of Brazil. Though slavery was outlawed, blacks still faced extremely serious cases of racism and segregation in everyday society.
Football is said to have been brought to Brazil by an Englishman named Charles William Miller, promoted first by Christian missionaries, then by elite schools such as MacKenzie college and then eventually encouraged by companies such as the English owned factories of Bangu. Due to its European origins and the already present high level of popularity in European countries, the game was at first mainly played by the Europeans and it was heavily associated with the upper classes. It has been said that “Soccer in Brazil was thus born arrogant and haughty, a symbol of extreme exclusion.”  On the Fluminese team, known as the “Carioca elites”, fans wore suits, and dresses to show they were the finest families of the city. Players wore sports coats and had hatbands imported from England in their teams colors to symbolize the selectiveness of their team. Players would bow to the stands before playing as a symbol of their manicured and pretentious way of life. But as football began to gain popularity and players from lower social classes started getting involved this idea that football was a game for aristocratic white men wearing suits and ties began to get a bit complicated. Most big clubs only allowed certain members of society play on their teams but other teams began to recruit working class players and some teams even chose to allow Mulattos and blacks to play for their team as well.
This set the stage for one of the first Black superstars of Brazilian soccer, and arguably one of the best plays of all time to make his debut. Arthur Friedenreich was born on July 1, 1892 in São Paulo, Brazil. His father, Oscar Friedenreich, was a white German business man who had migrated to Brazil. Arthur’s mother, Mathilde, was an African Brazilian washerwoman and the daughter of freed slaves. This means Friedenreich fell into the racial classification of mulatto or mixed. Though he had green eyes, fairly light skin and only slightly wavy hair, Friedenreich was partially black which meant he had to face the racism and criticism that was still a prevalent issue in Brazilian society in the early twentieth century.
Arthur’s career was heavily influenced and encouraged by his father who had been a member of SC Germania. SC Germania was a football club in Brazil that was mainly composed of German immigrants. After a childhood surrounded by football, Arthur also became a member of SC Germania in 1909 at the age of seventeen. Shortly thereafter, Arthur Friedenreich became the first black man to join the professional football leagues of Brazil. For the next twenty six years Friedenreich was transferred around between the best professional teams in Brazil including Ypiranga, Paulistano, São Paulo, Atlético Mineiro, and Flemengo. One of his most significant achievements is probably representing his country on the Brazilian national team for several years. His longest playing stint with one team was with Paulistano from 1918 until 1929. He was named the Top Scorer in the Liga Paulista nine different years. In 1921, Friedenreich arguably had his best season scoring thirty three goals.
Friedenreich’s powerful stride and stealthy attacking style earned him the nickname of “the Tiger”. Not only was he the first man of African descent to play football professionally in Brazil, he also became the first black Brazilian football superstar. Some even claim he was arguably the first Brazilian football star regardless of color. Friedenreich’s talent and skill was so dominant and amazing that it often overshadowed his racial and social classifications and allowed him to gain popularity regardless of color or class. He had the attention, and for the most part support, of the nation. To this day he has a claim at the title of leading scorer of all time but due to faulty record keeping no one can be sure. Some sources say he scored 1,239 goals in 1,329 games while other sources claim he scored 1,329 goals in 1,239 games and still others list completely different figures. Regardless of the title, Arthur was an extremely significant social icon and he paved the way for other black football players to become professional athletes competing with and even beating the white elite ruling class, a true test of the hegemony of the aristocrats that once held all the power in Brazil.
Arthur Friedenreich retired from Flamengo in 1935 at the age of forty-three. He died on September 6, 1969 at the age of seventy-seven. But his lasting impact lived on. During his life Arthur faced many challenges including much segregation and racism due to the color of his skin and the socio-economic status of his family. Even as one of the best football players in the world, he was not allowed to swim, shop, dine or party with his white teammates. He often faced harsh criticism from fans and opposing players. It is rumored that before games he would spend several hours straightening out his hair powdering his skin in attempt to appear more “white” looking. The fact that Friedenreich was only half black, enabled him to be the perfect segue into a culture more accepting of social diversity in sports. His almost European-looking appearance allowed people to forget that he was black and truly focus on his talents as a player. Once he had won the hearts of the fans it seemed to matter less and less what color he actually was and more about his ability on the field. His popularity reached a monumental level that is said to rival that of Pelé’s. This is because many different people from many different backgrounds could relate to Friedenreich in different ways; and, even if they had nothing in common he was still a phenomenal player to watch.
Today Brazil is known as a predominantly black soccer team that has become a powerhouse in the realm of worldwide soccer. Brazil has fostered some of the best soccer players in all of history, many of whom proudly exhibited their African heritage. As a nation Brazil is a very culturally diverse and accepting society, though issues of race and class have not been solved all together, the country has come a long way over the last century. It is ridiculous to claim that one man was the cause and inspiration for these changes, but without the courage and perseverance of Arthur Friedenreich no one knows where the Brazilian soccer world would stand today.
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