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Brazil: The Death of Socrates, A Brazilian Idol

[All links in Portuguese except when otherwise noted.]

Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, one of the greatest Brazilian soccer players, died at the age of 57 on December 4, 2011, a result of septic shock caused by excessive consumption of alcohol over the years.

Known simply as Sócrates (or even “Doutor Sócrates”, since he was a qualified physician, or Magrão, his childhood nickname), he started playing for Botafogo team from the city of Ribeirão Preto, in the state of São Paulo. In the 1980s, he became an idol while playing for Sport Club Corinthians Paulista, and especially during the World Cup of 1982, when he was captain of one of the best national teams ever. The cultured midfielder also played in the 1986 World Cup, in a team that included the legendary Zico and which famously became known as one of the greatest teams not to have won a World Cup.

Blogger Rodrigo Cárdia, from the blog Cão Uivador regrets:

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff in tribute to the player (under CC license)

Perde o futebol, perde o Brasil, perdem todos os que têm espírito contestador. Pois tudo isso tinha Sócrates: grande futebol, o Brasil no nome (Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira), e um pensamento crítico muito raro no meio futebolístico.

Soccer loses, Brazil loses, all of those who have a disruptive spirit lose. Because Socrates had all of that: great football, Brazil in his name (Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira) and critical thinking, which is very rare in the soccer world.

Sócrates, the Politician

Besides being a soccer player, Sócrates was a political leader in and out of the field. A self-proclaimed communist, he was one of the architects of the so-called Corinthian Democracy [en], a period in which the decision-making processes of the club's soccer department were influenced by the players. At that time, some of the players were also known to stand against the military dictatorship that would end in 1985.

Show de Camisas blog explains:

Sócrates não lutou por democracia só no Corinthians. Ele teve papel de destaque na campanha por Diretas Já no Brasil, no início da década de 80. Tinha ideais socialistas e era admirador do regime cubano – o mais novo de seus filhos recebeu o nome de Fidel, em homenagem ao líder Fidel Castro.

Sócrates didn't fight for democracy only while in Corinthians. He played a very important role in the campaign for Diretas Já (Direct Now) [movement [en] that demanded for direct presidential elections] in Brazil, in the early Eighties. He had socialist ideals and was an admirer of the Cuban regime — his youngest son was named Fidel, in tribute to the leader, Fidel Castro.
About Sócrates and his support to MST, Movement of the Workers Without Land. By Max da Rocha, from Brigada de Audiovisual of Via Campesina, under CC license

About Sócrates and his support to MST, Movement of the Workers Without Land. By Max da Rocha, from Brigada de Audiovisual of Via Campesina, under CC license

Being champion is just a detail
“People's mobilization is essential. We have two large political groups: the organized cheerleaders and the MST (Landless Workers’ Movement). The bourgeoisie is afraid that these groups will be strengthened further.
“The degree of politicization of the organized will give the line of our future. These movements are in the bud and have to do with changes in society, it is deeper than football.”

Sócrates didn't hide his political activism in the field, recalls journalist Eduardo Marini, saying that “Magrão has never been one of those who celebrate goals with explosions of joy”:

Mas quando comemorava, quase sempre o fazia da mesma forma, à moda dos Panteras Negras: em silêncio, com um punho fechado e erguido para o alto e o outro totalmente para baixo, também cerrado

But when he did comemorate, he almost always did it the same way, in the militant fashion of the Black Panthers: in silence, with a closed fist and lifted into the air and the other one all the way down, also closed.

Nicolau, from the blog Futepoca criticizes the media for having tried to hide the real meaning of Sócrates’ typical gesture to celebrate goals, and Rodrigo Cárdia adds:

[Sócrates] participou ativamente da campanha “Diretas Já” em 1984, e nunca escondeu que seu lado era a esquerda. Nunca se cansou de criticar a formação de jogadores no Brasil (que procura criar apenas atletas de alto rendimento, sem se preocupar com “o lado humano”, ou seja, em formar também cidadãos mais conscientes), assim como os rumos da política esportiva no país, mais dedicada à organização de grandes eventos do que ao próprio fortalecimento do esporte brasileiro.

[Socrates] actively participated in the campaign “Direct Elections Now” in 1984, and never hid the fact that his side was leftist. He never got tired of criticizing the training of players in Brazil (which only seeks to create high-performance athletes, without worrying about the “human side”, i.e. in forming more aware citizens), as well as the direction of sports politics in the country, which is more concerned with the organization of large events than actually strengthening Brazilian sports.

A last tribute in the field

Sócrates’ closed and lifted fist was repeated by Corinthians players at the final game of the Brazilian Cup 2011, during a minute's silence before kickoff, on December 4. The match ended with Corinthians as the champion team of Brazil, and this was also celebrated as a tribute to the brilliant player.

Nicolau, from the blog Futepoca adds:

Às 17h deste domingo, 4 de dezembro de 2011, o Corinthians entrava em campo no Pacaembu para disputar o título de Campeão Brasileiro. A uns 300 quilômetros dali, em Ribeirão Preto, o Doutor Sócrates recebia as últimas homenagens de uma vida intensa, mas interrompida prematuramente. No minuto de silêncio, em São Paulo, uma das várias cenas que ficarão marcadas de mais esta “final” (foram tantas…): os jogadores do Timão, perfilados em torno do círculo central, levantaram o braço direito relembrando a comemoração clássica do Magrão.

At 5pm this Sunday, December 4, 2011, Corinthians entered the field in the Pacaembu to dispute the title of Brazilian Champion. Around 300 km away, in Ribeirão Preto, Doutor Socrates received his last tributes to an intense life, which had come to a premature end. During the minute of silence in Sao Paulo, in one of the several episodes that marked this “final” (there were so many …): Timão made his way to the center circle and raised his right arm, recalling the classical celebration of Magrão.

Blogger Hugo Albuquerque comments:

Na esteira da morte do Doutor Sócrates, seria uma indignidade o Corinthians perder o título brasileiro ontem. Justo o Doutor, que declarou querer morrer num domingo com o seu Corinthians campeão.

In the wake of the death of Doutor Socrates, it would have been an indignity for Corinthians to lose the Brazilian title yesterday. It was the right thing for the Doctor, who said he wanted to die on a Sunday with his Corinthians as champions.

Cartoon by Carvall. Under CC license

Blogger Rogério Tomaz Jr sums up the player and the man:

Sócrates foi um dos maiores jogadores da história do futebol brasileiro.

E era amplamente reconhecido e respeitado pelo seu caráter, pela sua inteligência e pela sua personalidade.

Socrates was one of the best players in the history of Brazilian soccer.
And he was widely acknowledged and respected for his character, his intelligence and his personality.

Former player Walter Casagrande Jr, who played with Sócrates for Corinthias in the times of Corinthian Democracy and who was one of the team's idealists, wrote a moving letter about his friend, as did the teacher Fernando Lemos, who also paid his tribute.

Former Brazilian President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva released a statement, showing his sadness at the death of Sócrates.

Journalist Xico Sá, friend of Sócrates, also wrote a touching farewell, where he declared:

TE AMO PRA SEMPRE, DOUTOR.

I love you forever, Doctor.

Blogger and teacher Francisco Bicudo told of what Sócrates meant for him and his generation:

A Seleção de 82 e as Diretas Já são símbolos da minha geração. E Sócrates é uma espécie de síntese, de figura representativa dos dois momentos. Paz e sossego, Doutor Sócrates. Nossas lembranças guardarão para sempre os calcanhares geniais, a elegância desfilada em campo, a inteligência e o carinho no trato com a redonda, o olhar altivo e sereno, as lutas por democracia, a consciência política, a preocupação com a realidade social brasileira. Meu futebol e minha política ficaram hoje um pouco mais chatos.

The National Team of ’82 and the Diretas Ja (Direct Now) are symbols of my generation. And Sócrates is a kind of synthesis, the figurehead of the two moments. Peace and quiet, Doctor Sócrates. Our memories will forever keep the genius heels, the elegance paraded on the field, the intelligence and kindness, the proud and serene look, the struggle for democracy, the political awareness, the concerns with the social reality of Brazil. My soccer and my politics have now become a little more boring.

Activist and writer Celso Lungaretti summed up a feeling shared my many Brazilians:

Perdemos um grande companheiro, um irmão de fé. Foi doído demais.

We've lost a great companion, a brother of faith. It is too hurtful.

Tribute to Sócrates. Image by Pierre Lucena, under a CC license

This post was proofread by Skye Hernandez.

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