May 9, 2013

Pele: Futbol and Homophobia Come to America

When I was a kid in the 1960s, only three sports existed: baseball, basketball, and football.  I hated them. Boring, tedious, pointless attempts to gain control of a silly little ball.  To this day I've seen only about five baseball games and three basketball games without falling asleep.  No football games.

Then suddenly, in the spring of 1972, a guy named Pele started appearing on t-shirts and lunch boxes, and on tv commercials, bouncing a black-and-white ball on his head.

I had never heard of futbol, or what the Americans call soccer.  I figured he must be a Olympic athlete.

At least he filled out his uniform nicely, and there are some photographs out there with full-frontal nudity.

Turns out that Pele was "the athlete of the century," a Brazilian national hero, who won the World Cup many times in a row, and almost single-handedly introduced the game into the U.S.

Today 13.5 million people in the U.S. play soccer, more than baseball (11.5) and football (8.9).  It's no-contact rule makes it popular among kids who don't enjoy bashing each other's heads in.

But it's still homophobic.

Pele has been embroiled in a battle-of-insults for several years with fellow soccer great Diego Marandona.  Pele claims that Diego is a degenerate drug addict who is a poor role model for kids.  Then Diego "accuses" Pele of being gay; he "lost his virginity" to his soccer coach at age 15.

Ok, that's statutory rape.  The age of consent in Brazil is 16.

The soccer world is mostly outraged at Marandona (left).  How dare he accuse the Brazilian national hero of something so horrible?  As one blogger pointed out: "Brazilian soccer players aren't homophobic, they just hate gays."

Pele's reaction was slightly less homophobic.  First he denied it: degenerate drug addicts will say anything.  When a 1981 interview in Playboy magazine surfaced with Pele mentioning the incident, he still denied it, claiming that he had been misquoted: "I don't have a problem with it. If I did it, I would admit it.  You do so many crazy things when you are a kid."

At least he "doesn't have a problem" with it.

See also: Joe DiMaggio.

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