Branding a football player as a symbol of some sorts is perhaps as an overdone and exaggerated trait as the football fans in derby matches. After every good game players have, every move they make, even every comment they utter are followed by tens of labels; “legend”, “golden boy”, “judas”, along with thousands of insulting terms mixed with the players’ respective names. If such are the case, then perhaps Dr. Socrates doesn’t need another name to symbolize; he is Socrates, a symbol of democracy in Brazil, similar to how his Greek counterpart is regarded among many historians.
Image from: news.uk.msn.com
To Socrates, the 15-year career he amassed means nothing to the democratic movement he led during his time in Corinthians. The Corinthians’ Democracy movement, or Democracia Corinthiana, was led by Socrates and his group of fellow footballers to introduce a democratic way of managing the club; they would often spend their nights, over bottles of alcohol and packet of cigarettes, discussing and voting subjects ranging from how the club should be managed to whether someone should go to the bathroom to take a piss. The movement served as a pressure to the military government to bring back direct presidential elections to Brazil, and as an encouraging message to the Brazilian people that their time of constraints by dictatorship is going to lift.
Banner of Corinthians Democracia.
The red splatter represents blood spilt to promote democracy
Image from: botecodosboleiros.com.br
Such drastic actions would surely have been stopped by the military government in any different setting; the fact that it was through football, the one setting that such actions could possibly be filtered down from an act of anarchy, undoubtedly played a big part in keeping the Corinthians’ Democracy movement going. Dr. Socrates himself showed to the world that, in situations as extreme as a military dictatorship, football can be served as a window to voice their opinion of justice; to him, that was the purpose of his football, as evident in his quote after Corinthians won the state championship in 1982:
“That was the greatest team I ever played in because it was more than sport. My political victories are more important than my victories as a professional player. A match finishes in 90 minutes, but life goes on.”
Purely from a professional footballer’s standards nowadays, Socrates would be labeled by many as a “wasted talent”, often indulging on cigarettes and alcohol throughout his entire career. Socrates himself admitted, in recalling his time in Florence, Italy, that he considered football second to his life, as a person and a thinker. What set him miles apart from such label, however, was his pursuit to bring democracy to Brazil in times of military dictatorship. He wasn’t what we would call a dedicated footballer; rather, he was a philosopher and a rebel, who used football as a tool to amplify his voice of opinion.
Feature Image from : Football Rebels, Al Jazeera
Exibição do documentário “Ser Campeão É Detalhe”
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Great read! I’ve heard of similar players in the past, who have used their influence on the soccer pitch as a soapbox of sorts, and I’ve found them to be pretty interesting. Unfortunately, I feel like these types of people are much less common nowadays, perhaps because soccer has become so competitive now that players need to commit all of their time to practice, or perhaps they are restricted from being as vocal due to many financial interests from sponsors, teams, etc. Even minor commentary, such as the statement that Zlatan Ibrahimovic made recently, is uncommon.
Partly, it would be from their fear of being left back into uncertainty, I’d say. As you commented, football has become so competitive that luck factors so much now in the players’ careers – injuries, positional overlap with a “superstar” in the team, and tactical fitting to the coaches’ tactics etc. are all external factors that contribute massively to the success and failure of the players. I figure that the players who are recognized enough to make a strong voice also know just how lucky they are, and they would want more than anything to minimize the risk of their established career being thrown into scrutiny again. Making the media turn against you (and they would do in the name of “critique” or “interesting articles”) would be the last thing they would want.
Interesting read! I agree with Maddie that it would be interesting to consider how social media influences athletes’ decisions to make political statements – I think it would be interesting to see how it would have affected Socrates and his pursuits to make Brazil more democratic.
I imagine that he’d probably polarize opinions if he launched Corinthians Democracia now.
Some who can differentiate Socrates as a philosopher from him as a footballer would support his cause 100%; others who cannot would slander him in a similar manner as they do to Mario Balotelli (though maybe not as fiercely)
Sponsorship money is a big reason why players have been reluctant to take a political stance in today’s society. This is exemplified by Jordan, who made the most, still has sponsorships today, and whom many of the current stars grew up wanting to emulate. This default generic apolitical stance might be slowly changing, in part because players realize that they have to distinguish themselves in today’s over-saturated sports scene.
Actually, in a similar limelight, I wouldn’t mind if African players, many of whom donate a large amount of their wages to their country or community, voice a little more strongly on their causes. I see a lot of media stigmatizing players like Yaya Toure or Emmanuel Adebayor as these “money-grubbers”, while ignoring the fact that a good chunk of their wages are donated or used to promote the lifestyles of their mother nations. It’s about time that the media embrace the positives of the footballers, as well as the negatives they have been concentrating for so long.
I think it would be interesting to consider how social media influences athletes’ decisions to take a political stance or not. In today’s world, any statement that any player chooses to make is attended to by thousands of people, who also have access to interactive ways of responding to these stances. I’d be curious to see if it was fear of personal retaliation that keeps athletes from talking about their opinions. Having said that, however, I think athletes oftentimes do take stances that might not be as political as in days past for fear of fines or other penalties, but still do use their elevated popular status to raise awareness for other causes, such as David Beckham and his affiliation with UNICEF among other causes. I think that that still deserves some credit at least.
I agree, Maddie – their fear of retaliation comes from the fact that the strength of their voices or opinions are so much affected by their performances, which are guaranteed to have ups and downs.. and people react so much more in periods of dip in the players’ form.
I’d reckon that affiliating with organizations like UNICEF implies a bit more altruistic causes that can be somewhat distanced from the performance of the players, and therefore is a more approachable action to take than say, rebelling against their current government.
It is interesting to see throughout history how sports can serve as a platform for political stances and opinions. I feel like nowadays, most athletes try to keep a low profile about their political viewpoints, and there really hasn’t been a sustaining type of movement from any soccer players. I wonder if this is because of the difference in current events and historical events, or if it is because players themselves have become apolitical and apathetic towards what is going on in the world. Thanks for sharing this piece on Socrates!
Apolitical, I agree with you, Helena; they’ve seen too many cases of people with a little “punch” in their opinions getting pounded down, that they fear they might be the next target of that media slandering if they voice their opinions too strongly.
Apathetic, I’m not so sure; there are still a lot of footballers who care about issues in and out of the football community; some of them donate, some buy share of their local clubs to prevent them from going bankrupt, and some include clauses in their sponsor contracts so that their sponsors would supply footballing equipment to poor countries.
They just don’t actively present it in public because of, again, the fear of media retribution.