Pelé was the epitome of black grace in football — Andscape

O Melhor is how you say “the greatest” in Portuguese. But frankly, for a certain Edson Arantes do Nascimento, even the most honorable of word titles bestowed on him would be an understatement for the mark he left on this planet.

GOAT, icon or legend combined still may not really sum up Pelé, died December 29 at age 82. And that doesn’t just confine him to the discussion of being arguably the most popular sports personality in the world for over six decades, but a personality who has transcended all walks of life.

Pelé’s legacy is more than the record three World Cups he has won. It’s more than how Brazilian President Janio Quadros forbade him to play for Europe’s elite football clubs because of the “national treasure” quality he was at just 17 after the 1958 World Cup and his meteoric rise for his first club, the Santos team. It was more than he who made people care about football like never before in the United States during his three years with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.

Pele’s legacy is more than any debate that has preceded over the years over whether the late great Diego Maradona, or Lionel Messi, could take his (subjective) title as the greatest of all time. It’s more than how his style, play and leadership transformed the most popular game in the world.

The epitome of black grace in football was Pelé. There could easily have been a permanent bitterness on his part after all this the anti-black racism given to him white Brazilians on his debut with the national team. This heinous behavior he had to endure could have depressed him and kept billions of people from cherishing him around the world for more than half a century. It could have stopped the growing tide of black Brazilians after his dazzling displays at create their own indelible moments in homage to him.

Members of the Brazilian national team hold a Pele banner after their FIFA Men’s World Cup Round of 16 match in Qatar on December 5, 2022.

André Penner/Associated Press

Without Pelé, there is no Romario. Without Pelé, there is no Ronaldo. No Pelé, no Rivaldo. No Pelé, no Roberto Carlos. No Pelé, no Cafu. No Pelé, no Ronaldinho. No Pelé, no Neymar. No Pelé, no Vinicius Junior. No Pelé, no Marta. No Pelé, no Formiga. That’s why, after Brazil’s recent victory in the Round of 16 of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar, a banner wishing her recovery was held by the whole team.

It’s such a clear picture, because Pele’s success has at the very least made more white Brazilians tolerant of their national team having black stars, while allowing black Brazilians to be happy with whoever they are. they see in their mirrors. As the late Brazilian journalist Mario Filho documented in his book “O Negro No Futebol Brasiliero (The Black Man in Brazilian Football)”, Pelé embraced his blackness before racist critics had to grudgingly accept that he and his generational talents were going nowhere. He was comfortable being called ‘The Negro’ and ‘The Black Man’ and his rise to become Brazil’s top star represented the country’s change less than 90 years after the end of his own immoral period of age-old slavery.

But beyond Brazil, Pelé’s black grace has helped fight anti-darkness around the world. It was simply significant that he became the first black person to grace the cover story. magazine of life (the Mexican edition in Spanish) primarily Black American. The top player in the world’s most popular sport being a very proud young black man who loved his black family and didn’t try to lighten his skin like some other Brazilian black players made at the time, was a deeply positive portrayal for black people around the world in the 1960s.

Being arguably the most famous athlete in the world could have easily inflated his ego. He could have looked more like his boxer friend, Muhammad Ali, and could you have blamed him? Ali of course, in his dynamic way, was his own embodiment of dark grace. But Pele’s personality wasn’t wired to match his superstar heavyweight friend.

That’s not to say, however, that the UN ambassador didn’t back himself up whenever someone asked him if he was the greatest soccer player of all time. But he did it in a humorous way. “If you ask me, I have a very good friend called ‘Pelé’; my name is Edson, nice to meet you,” he said with a laugh when asked in an interview on CNN Asia.

His big, warm, magnanimous smile was as synonymous with identifying who he was as it was with his incredible exploits on the pitch. He wasn’t just happy, he was happy HAPPY. He even once, in an interview with ABC New York, apologized for talking too much during the interview was ending.

It’s unreasonable to think that someone like Pelé, with the type of fame he had, wouldn’t have a few moments of dismissive elitism. Pelé, however, showed how you can be a larger-than-life figure without looking like you’re bigger than anyone else in life.

Pelé was the mythical legend who was not a myth. He will always be loved for being the gentleman of the gentleman, the ambassador of the ambassador, the kindest soul of the kindest soul. It has transformed from a name to remember into a name no one will ever forget: Four letters, two syllables, with the letter “E” twice providing, whether in Portuguese, Spanish, English or any other language, an effective, rhythmic expression and pronunciation pleasing to the ear.

O Melhor always feels like it’s not enough to accurately summarize who Edson Arantes do Nascimento was in this world. Instead, a single word could make this job nearly impossible. Pelé ironically hated his nickname, being suspended from school as a child for two days for fighting a classmate who said so.

Today, the name continues to be spoken around the world.

Andrew Jones is a sports, political and cultural writer whose work has appeared on The Guardian, MSNBC, Ebony Magazine, Salon, SB Nation and The Intercept. He’s also proud of his Brooklynite, “Do or Die” Bed-Stuy ways.

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