Socrates vs Socrates

Posted on Tuesday, December 06, 2011, under , , , ,

As of yesterday, December 5th, 2011, if you googled ‘Death of Socrates’ the top couple of results would not be about the famous Greek, but that of a Brazilian football hero: Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira. For those of us who grew up in the early 80s playing footy in the park or the nearest parking lot, the mention of Brazilian Socrates inevitably brings back memories of one irretrievably lost sporting era when football (and most other sports) could indeed be a beautiful game, when creativity on the pitch and loyalty to clubs and fans came before financial gain. Just watch the Brazilian side on youtube at the two World Cups – Spain ’82 and Mexico ’86 respectively – the improvisation, the risk-taking, the ball-control, the whole team one well-oiled machine made up of free-spirited, individual talent. Mind you, not as individualistic as that Greek team in Monty Python’s Philosophy Football sketch (in which Socrates of all philosophers scores with that masterly diving header!).

Little did we know, those of us living outside of Brazil, that Socrates the footballer (also a qualified medical doctor) was politically active, playing a very prominent role in dismantling the Brazilian military regime, which eventually collapsed in 1985, and helping to bring in democracy and prosperity to the masses. This he did by forming the Corinthian Democracy Movement in the early 80s with the aim of spreading the powers of majority rule:

"Corinthians were a superb side at the time, winning the Sao Paulo state championship in 1982 and 1983, and their blend of stylish, attacking football married with the political campaigning of Socrates and his colleagues captured the imagination of many. To spread their message the Corinthians Democracy Movement emblazoned the clubs kits with political slogans on match days, and huge pro-democracy banners were erected at their Pacaembu stadium. The movement also attracted the support of artists and intellectuals, as the political left latched onto the power of football in spreading the message for change. In 1982, despite warnings from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) not to interfere in political issues, the Corinthians Democracy Movement agreed that the club would take to the field in shirts bearing the slogan “Vote on the Fifteenth”, urging Brazilian citizens to make their voice heard in the upcoming elections."

So, what do two Socrateses, the Athenian and the Brazilian, apart from their name, have in common? A few parallels (however historically unverifiable): both men were physically strong and vigorous; both were courageous – the Athenian as a hoplite war veteran, the Brazilian as a political activist as well as the on-pitch adventurer; both strove towards achieving a fairer society, albeit by the apparently opposing, or at least different, means – the Greek had issues with the Athenian democracy of his time, mistrusted the majority rule (paradoxically considered as probably the first ‘free-speech martyr’) and was rather concerned with the moral and intellectual betterment, ‘welfare of the souls’, of his fellow citizens, whereas the Brazilian Socrates was a champion of the poor and the underprivileged; and judging by their actions, both men in their final hour faced death without much fear or regret: the Greek accepting, even welcoming, the death sentence, the Brazilian apparently a victim of his bohemian lifestyle. Whatever the parallels, straight or reverse, both men, as poet Kathy Evans Bush might say, acted like human beings. Curiously enough, she takes another Greek, Nestor, ‘the grandfatherly blabbermouth’, when she cooks up a poem from Nestor’s ‘point of view’ about yet another athlete (a coincidence?), LeBron James. The poem is called ‘The Iliad’, and the final lines go

Pro teams used to practice in
The gym where I taught high school.
Chamberlain, Chet Walker, Jerry West,
I saw them all up close and in truth
The only one who acted like a human
Being was Tom Boerwinkle so let's have
A poem contest for the man from Tennessee!

edit post

0 Reply to "Socrates vs Socrates"