The US vs Brazil game was a pretty interesting one. Not only because of all the soccer drama and PK decision but because of something I haven’t seen here in the US before: Americans got mad at the Brazilians for acting the ‘Brazilian way’.
This is something that has irritated me for a long time. For whatever reason, the American people have a pretty favorable view of Brazilians. Even though the Brazilian culture has pretty much all the problems that are so criticized in every other Latin culture (lack of seriousness, aversion to hard work, being too loud, apology of cheating, etc) Brazilians somehow got a pass and were usually considered a much more acceptable option to say, Mexicans or Argentinians.
My theory is that the issue here was soccer. Americans have (had?) no interest in it for a long time. It was always considered something too English, too boring, and too theatrical. At the same time, the business side of soccer has been trying to change that image here in the US for quite a while. So after many years and billions of dollars, your average American at least knows what soccer is and who is who. That means they started to learn about this incredible Brazilian team, with their yellow shirts and groovy game. It’s a team that rivals all the super powers in Europe (which Americans are not that in love with in the first place) so right away they grab the underdog badge. These strange foreigners play ‘the beautiful game’ type of soccer, and on top of that, they have Pele. A black demigod who conquers 3 world cups and decides to finish his career playing for Cosmos in NY.
Pele becomes the stereotype of Brazilians in the US.
Funny thing is that if you stop and look at it, Pele is not your typical Brazilian in many ways. First of all, he was a ruthless player. Think about Michael Jordan playing soccer. Soccer players are usually known for faking injuries but Pele was famous for not getting hurt and (in)famous for being very physical against defenders (he broke quite a few big guys even though he is only 5’7”). Maybe because of that nature, he also had an incredible work ethic. He only retired when he was 37 and even now at 70 years old he is in awesome shape. On the other hand, Pele was also a loveable guy. He was not brazen; he was a soft-spoken marketing genious who dedicated his 1000th goal to ‘the poor kids in Brazil’. He even went to become an Ambassador of United Nations Children’s Fund and an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire! That however didn’t stop him from being a very shrewd business man. He became one of the first truly globalized millionaire athletes and in many ways pushed soccer as a business to the next level like no other had ever done.
So there you have it. Americans were ‘tricked’ into thinking that Pele represented the Brazilians when in reality he was as much as a cultural freak as he was a freak as an athlete. One could make the case that Pele was truly the opposite of the Brazilian culture and that was a huge part of his success.
Now with him long gone and the Americans kind of getting back into the soccer affair, that image is eventually going to disappear. It is not a coincidence that Europeans have a much more reserved approach to Brazilians… They know better. Marta being booed by the German crowd was only a surprise because the other team was the US. Brazilian players have quite a bad reputation in European clubs with a few exceptions.
The US women’s game was not the first controversy that shows this new reality but it was probably the biggest one so far. It is only downhill from here.