Influence On Others

Not only was Pelé a symbol of Brazil, he was a symbol within the structures of Brazilian society. At this time in Brazil as Galeano describes, “in the global social pyramid, blacks are at the bottom and whites are at the top. In Brazil this is called ‘racial democracy’.”[1] This social hierarchy was rigid in Brazil, like in so many countries, and few of those born on the lower end of the chain were able to navigate their way to the top. Some of the rare few who could climb the social ladder were athletes who gained fame and status, both social and economic, through their athletic prowess. Clearly Pelé was such an athlete. Galeano comments: “With the passage of time, the old soccer mutilated by racism gave way to splendor of its diverse colors. And after so many years it is obvious that Brazil’s best players…have always been blacks or mulattos. All of them came up from poverty…soccer offers a shot at social mobility for a poor child.”[2] Pelé’s ascent from birth into a poor Brazilian family to a becoming an international superstar was evidence of the socially-mobilizing tool of football. To other poor Brazilians, Pelé was a source of hope and confidence that they too could overcome their hardships. Journalist Joao Luiz de Albuquerque said of Pelé’s impact: “He was the light at the end of the tunnel. All the poor said, ‘hey, this guy made it, I can make it.’ He brought the rest of Brazil with him.”[3] Pelé furthered his symbolic status as a sign of thawing racism through his marriage to a white woman. As Murray notes, “Pelé’s marriage to a white woman was cited as proof that the country had overcome the racism that Pelé himself had been forced to fight on his rise to stardom.”[4] This is yet another example of Pelé’s influence on those around him and how his ‘star power’ affected change and inspired others. His representation of social mobility in Brazil brought such inspiration to the Brazilian people.

He has become an icon, a person of significant meaning for people all over the world. Pelé has the amazing ability to connect with people from all different backgrounds; maybe it is his optimism and good-natured spirit, or maybe it is the fact that he understands the hardships that so many people in this world endure. In his biography Pelé: His Life and Times, he describes “his first visit to Africa [as] an uplifting experience. ‘Everywhere I went I was looked upon and treated a god, almost certainly because I represented to the blacks in those countries what a black man could accomplish in a country where there was little racial prejudice, as well as providing physical evidence that a black man could become rich, even in a white man’s country…To these people, who had little possibility of ever escaping the crushing poverty in which they found themselves, I somehow represented a ray of hope, however faint’.”[5] One of the most impressive examples of the impact that this sole individual has had on the world is the time he stopped “war: both sides in Nigeria’s civil war called a 48-hour cease-fire in 1967 so Pelé could play an exhibition match in the capital of Lagos.”[6] The world truly stops when it comes to this Brazilian: in his playing days, footballers dreamt of playing on the same field as him, even if it meant having him as an opponent; “when he walks into the room, the king or queen of that country couldn’t make more of an impact”[7]; and even the Shah of Iran is said to have once delayed his plans by three hours only to be able to speak with the world-famous player.


[1] Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. London UK: Verso 1998. Page 43.

[2] Galeano 43

[3] Kirby Also on this topic: Murray, Bill. The World’s Game: A history of Soccer. University of Illinois Press: Chicago 1996. Page 120.

[4] Murray 120

[5] Harris. Pele. 85.

[6] Kissinger. Time.

[7] Harris. Pele. 7.

5 thoughts on “Influence On Others

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