Sunday [December 4] morning marked the passing of Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, better known simply as Socrates. The Brazilian midfielder was 57. He is survived by his wife and six sons.
Sometimes greatness is measured through intangibles like leadership and personality, sometimes it is gauged through empirical achievement, like statistics and championships. Sometimes it’s a combination of all those things. But Socrates stood on an even higher plane: Soccer will probably never again produce anyone like him.The 1982 Brazilian team that he captained was perhaps the greatest never to win the World Cup (along with Hungary in 1954 and Holland in 1974). It was also one of the last Brazil teams to fully embody the romantic stereotype that comes to mind when we think of the green-and-gold. Sublime touches, languid pace, creativity … the sheer joy of what they call “jogo bonito,” or the beautiful game. Zico was probably the best player on that Brazil side, but Socrates was its philosophy made flesh.
Also via Twitter, we’d come across this blog post on Five In Midfield earlier this year, about Socrates And The Corinthians Democracy Movement: How Football Helped To Change A Country
In searching for more on Socrates and the CDM, we came to a more academic discussion of it–an article from the Spring 1989 issue of The Wilson Quarterly titled “Socrates, Corinthians and Democracy“, by one Matthew Shirts (“Editor-in-chief of National Geographic Brazil, author of O jeitinho americano, editorial coordinator of Planeta Sustentável, and chronicler at VEJA SP.”)
Before I am charged with unfair labeling, let me make clear that I am talking not about ancient Greece but 20th-century Brazil. The Corinthians under discussion rarely, if ever, travel by boat, and this particular Socrates, while given to philosophizing, is a popular soccer player.
“Corinthian Democracy,” to come directly to the point, refers to a political movement conceived by team administrators and soccer players in an attempt to alter the managementllabor relations of the “Corinthians,” a club in Siio Paulo, Brazil’s great southern industrial city. The movement seized headlines for the first time in 1982, on the eve of elections for the club presidency. It did so because of the soccer stars involved and also because of certain resemblances between the club’s internal politics and the larger Brazilian political arena
The importance of his political activism cannot be overestimated. One must bear in mind that, in the early 1980s, even though the most violent phase of the military dictatorship was over, Brazil was still not a democracy (in fact, the first real elections for president took place only in 1989!). Football had been widely used by the military regime to promote their own interests, in particular the 1970 World Cup victory in Mexico. The Corinthians Democracy went in the opposite direction; by establishing a democratic structure within the club, the players (led by Sócrates, Wladimir, Casagrande and Zenon) were clearly also making a statement against the authoritarian state of Brazilian politics in general, and demanding democracy and political openness.
I was 6 years old in 1982 (ok, so now everybody knows how old I am!), and have been profoundly marked by these events. My father was a communist*, a medical doctor and a Corinthians supporter, and together with friends who shared the same attributes (and thus felt the additional ‘doctor’ connection with Sócrates), believed that something novel and deeply moving was going on with the Corinthians Democracy. Plus, Corinthians was on a roll with championships and cups, as it had not been for decades! Sócrates was our hero both for his football and for his politics. Indeed, the 1982 election that is referred to in the quote above (not for president, but for state governor and parliament) is one of my most powerful childhood memories (there I was, standing by one of the voting sites and distributing flyers for candidates at age 6), as is the Corinthians victory in the state championship of 1982 – and sadly, also the defeat to Italy in the 1982 World Cup… Sócrates is part of each of them, and I can only thank him for being such a unique and inspirational role model for me and millions of others at such a crucial time in Brazilian history: he was making history with football.
(We should include the author’s footnote: “* In those circumstances, being a communist actually amounted to being pro-democracy and against the dictatorial regime.”)