Athlete, sports commentator
Retired Brazilian soccer player Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, is among the greatest and most celebrated sports superstars of his era. Even in the United States, where enthusiasm for soccer is eclipsed by the popularity of American football, Pelé’s name is synonymous with his sport. Having made his first appearance in the prestigious World Cup championship competition at the age of 18, the record-breaking inside left forward thrilled the sports world with his on-field agility throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
He repeatedly led his national team to victory in international championships, wowing audiences with his near-impossible plays and his uncanny ability to anticipate the moves of his opponents. At one time the highest paid athlete in the world, he ended his soccer career in 1977 with 1,280 goals, a record surpassed only by fellow Brazilian Artur Friedenreich.
Brazil is an enormous country in eastern South America, taking up nearly half of the continent’s land mass. Claimed by the Portuguese in 1500 AD, it became an independent state in the nineteenth century. Although the Portuguese influence remains in Brazil—it is the largest Portuguese-speaking nation in the world—its population is multiracial, with an ethnic mix of Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese, Amerindian, and Black peoples.
Soccer is Brazil’s best-loved sport. The winner of the World Cup in 1958, 1962, and 1970 (and runner-up in 1950), Brazil has earned a lasting image as a leader in the world soccer community. The game is believed to have been introduced to the nation in 1894 by a wealthy Brazilian-bom Englishman named Charles Miller. Within two decades, soccer would become a true game of the people, not just a sport for the rich. Immigrants from Italy, Spain, and Portugal flooded Brazil in the early twentieth century looking for work; many of these workers were captivated by the game and learned to play it. But, although the face of Brazil’s national team began to change with the addition of European immigrant players, it was not until 1909 that Friedenreich, the first player of racially mixed heritage, broke the country’s color barrier.
Pelé is revered as a sports icon in his home country and throughout the world. An incident witnessed in Rio de Janeiro by Sport magazine contributor Joel Millman illustrates this point. An appliance shop was showing
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, October 23, 1940, in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil; professionally known as “peté” or Perola Negra ( “Black Pearl“); son of Joao Ramos do Nascimento (also known as “Dondinho” a minor league soccer player and civil servant) married first wife, ftosemarie Chol by, February 1966 (divorced, 1978); married second wife, Assíria Seixas Lemos (a psychologist}, April 30, 1994; children: three (first marriage).
Professional soccer player, 1956-77. Began playing soccer as a child in Bauru, Brazil; played in Bauru Club, 1950-54; played with Santos Football Club, 1956-72; retired for the first time, 1972; played with New York Cosmos, 1975-77; retired permanently, 1977. Made first World Cup appearance at age 17; scored 1, 280 goals (including a record 92 hat tricks) over the course of career. Later employed in numerous promotional sponsorship programs. Author, with Robert L. Fish, of My Life and the Beautiful Game: The Autobiography of Pelé, 1977.
Awards: Latin American Footballer of the Year, 1973; Brazil’s stadium Maceió Estadio Reí Pelé is named for him.
Addresses: c/o Confederacao Brasileira de Desportos, Rua de Alfandega 70, P.O. Box 1078, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
video-clips of Pelé’s greatest moments in successive World Cup championships. “A father standing in front of an appliance store on Avenida Presidente Vargas [shows] his son how Pelé re-created soccer,” wrote Millman. “The grey and white footage floats by: Pelé, his forward movement a tumble of windmill arms and swivel legs, leaps past two defenders, bounces the ball off the turf before him then off his puffing chest then to his right foot before sending it past the diving goalie. ’Stockholm,’ the father murmers, squeezing the son’s elbow.” The father was referring to Pelé’s brilliant World Cup debut in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1958; young Pelé helped usher in a new era of Brazilian supremacy in soccer.
Called the Perola Negra, or “Black Pearl,” by some of his compatriots, Edson Arantes do Nascimento showed raw talent for soccer as a child. He picked up the nickname Pelé—the meaning of which is unknown even to him— on the soccer field. Pelé was bom October 23,1940, in the small village of Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil. His father, Joao Ramos do Nascimento, was, for a time, a center forward with a minor league Brazilian soccer club in Bauru, São Paulo.
Pelé’s earliest dreams were of becoming a professional soccer player. He dropped out of school when he was nine years old and received early coaching in soccer from his father. By the time he was 13, Pelé had captured the attention of World Cup great Waldemar de Brito, manager of Bauru. After a couple of years on the Bauru junior team, Pelé became one of the club’s best players.
In 1956, de Brito took the soccer prodigy to the seacoast city of Santos, where Coach Luis Alonso Perez let him try out for the Santos Football Club. Before long, Pelé had moved up from the Santos junior team to the first team reserves. By the end of the year, he was promoted to the first team’s starting lineup, where he enjoyed continued success.
With Pelé on the team, the Santos Football Club became a powerful force in Brazilian soccer, winning nine São Paulo championships between 1958 and 1969. Pelé first seized the imagination of the international soccer world as a 17-year-old member of the Brazilian National Team at the finals of the 1958 World Cup championship, held in Stockholm. His masterful performance on the field, including two legendary goals against the host country, helped lead Brazil to its first world championship.
Injuries kept Pelé out of Brazil’s second World Cup win in 1962, but he led Santos to victories against Europe’s top teams in the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup in 1962 and 1963. But as Pelé’s reputation grew, so too did infighting on the international soccer circuit. The Santos Club’s opponents focused all their efforts on “getting”—and in some cases incapacitating—Pelé, the mainstay of the team. Referees seemed indifferent to the illegal knee and elbow shots inflicted on him by his competitors.
“Nobody in the game had more fun than I did when I first became professional,” Pelé commented in the 1966 edition of International Football Book. “This honeymoon came to an abrupt end around 1960…. I’ve been kicked from pillar to post, particularly in those up-country league games where the home team decide this is the only way to stop Pelé and Santos. At first I was shocked, and then I became angry. Sometimes I hit back and because my name was Pelé, news of such incidents made every newspaper in Brazil. Nobody ever bothered to write about what started the whole business…. In this mood I sometimes feel like giving up football altogether, but I carry on because those few precious moments of pleasure from football mean more to me than anything else.”
In spite of Brazil’s elimination from World Cup contention by England in 1966, the team came back in 1970 to take its third world championship—at that time, an unprecedented feat. Pelé drew international attention for his larger-than-life demeanor and his extraordinary athletic prowess: his ingenious plays, unparalleled agility, devotion to team effort, and sincere love of the game made him a cultural icon.
Two years later, at the age of 32, Pelé retired from professional soccer. He was content to cap off his career with his triumphant performance in the 1970 World Cup—Brazil’s first victory to be televised—and he resisted pressure from both sports and government officials to play in the World Cup in ’74. But his retirement was not permanent. Following a streak of bad investments that left him near financial ruin, he was forced to return to the field in the mid-1970s. Signing a $3.5 million contract with the New York Cosmos, Pelé officially joined the American club in ’75 and remained there for two and a half seasons, giving “U.S. soccer a significant boost” in the process, according to an Associated Press report. He retired permanently in 1977.
Brazil was steeped in political turmoil in the mid-1960s, when the republic was overturned by a coup and replaced by a military-backed dictatorial regime. In 1979, as Brazil’s economy was bottoming out and the military junta contemplated a return to civilian rule, Pelé drew sharp criticism from supporters of democracy in his country. Distancing himself from the political tumult, he failed to use his tremendous influence and near-mythic status to rally around the call for liberalization in Brazil; he stated quite simply that he was an athlete, not a politician, telling Millman: “I play to make people happy. If we win there are still problems but at least the people get to be happy for several months.”
Political controversy aside, Pelé is still widely regarded as the greatest soccer star who ever lived—even more than 15 years after his retirement. But he revealed the burden of his superstar status to Millman, explaining: “Very few people know Edson. Edson is the normal person, he has defects. One day he is going to be dead. But Pelé, he cannot make a mistake…. I have to deal with both, but I think the bigger responsibility is for Edson, because he was born first. I don’t know why I became Pelé. God only knows.”
After his retirement in 1977, Pelé became a sports commentator and the leading promoter of soccer in the United States. “It is a mission,” Pelé told E.M. Swift in Sports Illustrated. “To bring soccer to the countries where [the sport] is undeveloped, this is my passion. I want to see soccer all over the world.” As a spokesperson for FIFA, soccer’s governing body, he captured the American limelight in 1994, when the World Cup came to Detroit, Michigan. And in a lavish ceremony held on the Brazilian coast that spring, Pelé married his second wife, Assíria Seixas Lemos.
Condon, Robert J., The Fifty Finest Athletes of the 20th Century: A Worldwide Reference, McFarland, 1990.
Pelé and Robert L. Fish, My Life and the Beautiful Game: The Autobiography of Pelé, Doubleday, 1977.
The World Encyclopedia of Soccer, edited by Michael L. La Blanc and Richard Henshaw, Gale, 1994.
Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 1964.
New York Times, December 2, 1962, p. 7; September 6, 1966.
Reader’s Digest, November 1964.
Sport, December 1986, pp. 120-23.
Sports Illustrated, October 24, 1966, p. 77; June 20, 1994, pp. 87-90.
Additional information for this profile was taken from the 1966 edition of the International Football Book and from Associated Press wire reports dated April 11, 1994 and May 1, 1994.
—Barbara Carlisle Bigelow
Brazilian soccer player
The greatest and most famous soccer player in history, Brazil's Pele revolutionized the game with his electrifying, creative and athletic style of play. He was such an appealing player that he transcended national boundaries in a sport that is almost synonymous with nationalism. Pele became a global ambassador of the sport, bringing increased attention to soccer in many countries, especially the United States.
Kicking the Sock
In October 1940, in the poor town of Tres Coracoes in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, soccer player Dondinho and his wife Celeste Nascimento gave birth to their first child. They christened him Edson Arantes de Nascimento. Two years later another son, Zoca, was born (he was briefly a pro soccer player before becoming a lawyer). His parents couldn't afford to buy Edson a soccer ball, so his father took an old sock and stuffed it with rags, and the child would run shoeless through the streets and kick the sock.
When Edson was six, his family moved to the larger town of Bauru, a railroad junction in southern Brazil. He often skipped school to practice soccer in the fields. To try to earn money for a soccer ball, Edson shined shoes and sold roasted peanuts outside movie theaters. With his friends, he formed a team called the Shoeless Ones. They played barefooted soccer — which later became known as "pelada," after Pele — on the streets or vacant lots. Pele developed many of his feints and unorthodox dribbling maneuvers playing these rough-and-tumble street games.
Pele left school for good after fourth grade, expelled when the head schoolmaster caught him playing soccer during the school day. He took a job as a cobbler's apprentice for $2 a day. His family called him Dico, but his friends bestowed the nickname Pele, which means nothing in Portuguese or any other language. At first he resisted the name because he thought it was an insult, but then he embraced it. In pickup games around Bauru Pele was often the youngest player.
At age 11, Pele was discovered by Waldemar de Brito, one of Brazil's top players. De Brito took him under his wing and trained him in secret. When Pele was 12, de Brito placed him on the local junior club, Baquinho. Pele danced home the day he got his own uniform, because finally he was a real soccer player like his father. "It may not seem such a big deal to some, but to me it was one of the thrills of my life," Pele later revealed to biographer Joe Marcus. He scored many goals for Baquinho, using both his feet and his head to drive balls into the net. Pele's scoring, dribbling and passing skills made him the talk of Brazilian junior soccer.
When Pele was 15, de Brito brought him to the directors of Santos, a top club team, and told them, "This boy will be the greatest soccer player in the world." In an exhibition game on September 7, 1956, Pele entered the game in the second half for Santos and within a few minutes scored his first goal as a professional. He began earning about $60 a month playing for Santos. In his
second season Pele became a starter on the team and started scoring from everywhere on the field. He was the top scorer in the league and became a national hero by scoring three goals in a game pitting the top players from Santos and another Brazilian club against the Belenenses club from Portugal. Late in 1957, Pele was picked for the National Team
In 1958, between playing on Santos and on the national team, Pele scored 87 goals and assisted on at least another 100. He also brought Brazil glory. Though soccer was a national obsession in Brazil, the country had never won a World Cup. At 17, Pele was the youngest player in the World Cup tournament and a virtual unknown. He rode the bench for the first two games to recuperate from a knee injury he had suffered in a qualifying game. The doctors cleared Pele to play in the final game of the opening round, and he assisted on one goal and hit the goal post on a shot of his own as Brazil won 2-0. In the next match, a quarterfinal game against Wales, Pele scored the only goal.
In the semifinal game, Pele was the sparkplug of the team. After France scored a game-tying goal early in the first half, he snatched the ball out of the net and raced up-field, yelling at his teammates to get going. Pele went on to score three goals in Brazil's victory, a feat which made him famous worldwide. In the final game, he scored two goals and Brazil won the World Cup for the first time by beating Sweden, 5-2. One of his goals became legendary: he caught a long pass by trapping it in his chest, sent it into the air with his left foot without letting it touch the ground, flipped it over his shoulder, and then pivoted and kicked the ball while it was still in the air.
Pele, still a teenager, quickly cemented his reputation as the world's best player. While serving in the army, he played on the national team and on Santos and scored a record 127 goals in 1959. European teams started trying to lure Pele away with offers of more than a million dollars, though no team up until then had ever paid more than $100,000 for a player. Though he could have left Santos to play with an Italian club and still have played for the national team of Brazil, Santos refused to sell him. President Janio Quadros declared Pele "a national treasure" who could not be exported.
While Pele was on the team, Santos won 11 league championships. In 1960, he slipped to 78 goals because he was constantly being double- and triple-teamed by defenders. Pele was happy just to pass the ball off to teammates, making Santos even more successful. In 1961 he scored 110 goals. Pele scored more than 400 goals before he turned 20 years old.
In the 1962 World Cup, held in Chile, Brazil was a favorite to win, but Pele pulled a leg muscle in the second game and sat out all the games until his country reached the championships. Doctors refused him permission to play, but Brazil was so strong it won the cup without him. In 1962, Pele won the Brazil scoring championship for the fifth straight year.
The Black Pearl
Pele wore uniform number 10 and played left inside forward. With his agility, speed and incredible ball-handling skills, he revolutionized soccer, instigating a creative, all-out attack that became the Brazilian style and was much more exciting for casual fans than the traditional defense-oriented game. During Pele's career, he scored five goals or more in a game on six occasions, scored four goals in 30 games, and had 92 games with three goals. Three times he scored more than 100 goals in a season.
Pele acquired several nicknames during his career: "Gasoline" for his energy, "The Executioner" for his brilliant ability to finish an offensive drive and put the ball in the net, and, most popularly, "The Black Pearl," because he was precious. On the field, his joy at playing the game he loved was obvious and infectious. Pele would salute the crowd after scoring a goal and, on many occasions, the goalkeeper he had just beaten would wave or bow to him. If a keeper stopped his shot, Pele would often shake hands with him. When he scored, thousands of fans would stand and chant his name.
Pele had countless tricks to get around defenders. He developed incredible shots, including a swerving shot from 40 yards out that would curve away from the goalie at the last second, and a drop shot that would appear to be going over the crossbar and then dip into the net. Often, defenders would be all over Pele, and he would be fouled and harassed. After years of tolerating this treatment, he began to retailiate and draw yellow cards hinmself. After an Argentinian player repeatedly kicked him and spat at him, Pele kicked back.
The first soccer player to become a millionaire, Pele was overwhelmed with offers to make personal appearances and sign business deals, but he refused to endorse cigarettes or liquor. "I know that I have influence on youngsters and I don't feel that I want them to think if I should endorse these products I want them to use them," he said, according to Marcus's book.
The King of Soccer
In 1964, Pele scored only 60 goals, because most teams were playing six men back on defense against his team. At the end of the season, however, he scored eight goals in a game. In 1965, he bounced back and scored 101 goals. In 1966, Brazil played Bulgaria in the opening game of the World Cup, and Bulgaria fouled Pele brutally and repeatedly. He had to sit out a game to recover, and he returned to action as Brazil faced Portugal needing to win to stay alive in the tournament. With Portugal leading 2-0, a player tripped Pele and then stepped on his knee. No foul was called though Pele was severely injured, and Brazil lost the World Cup. He vowed never to play in another World Cup.
Later that year, Santos made the first of many tours of the United States and played several exhibition games in New York, drawing record crowds at a time when soccer was not popular in the United States. When the National Professional Soccer League was formed in 1967, its president Bob Hermann spoke of wanting to buy Pele, but the Brazilian star said he would never play for any team except Santos or the Brazilian national squad.
|1956||Begins pro career with Santos Football Club|
|1957||Picked to play on Brazil's National Team|
|1958||Electrifies soccer world with first World Cup appearance|
|1961||Declared a national treasure by Brazil's president|
|1962||Leads Brazil to second World Cup victory|
|1970||Leads Brazil to victory in his final World Cup|
|1974||Retires from play with Santos|
|1975||Comes out of retirement to play for New York Cosmos|
|1977||Retires from Cosmos|
|1994||Named Brazil's Minister of Sports|
In 1969, Pele bowed to pressure and agreed to play in the World Cup in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1970. Brazil won every game, beating Italy in the finals, and Pele became the first person ever to play on three World Cup champions.
With his global notoriety and interest in humanitarian causes, Pele became a freelance goodwill ambassador. In 1967, both sides in Nigeria's civil war declared a cease-fire so they could together watch him play an exhibition game in Lagos. Pele toured throughout the world with his Santos club, adding to his all-time goal-scoring record and his reputation as the king of soccer. He also signed contracts to teach soccer to young children in 115 countries and made soccer training films for Pepsi, as well as doing endorsements for coffee and sporting-goods products. Pele was a multimillionaire and a hugely successful businessman, with interests in construction, rubber and coffee products. He was also a noted philanthropist who gave money especially to support children's causes.
Heeding his father's advice, Pele decided to retire while he was still a top player. In 1971, he retired from the national team, playing his 111th and last game for Brazil on July 18, even though the Brazilian government kept trying to persaude him to play in the 1974 World Cup. Pele later said he quit playing partly to protest human rights abuses by Brazil's military government. His 97 goals in international matches were an all-time record.
Signing a final two-year contract with Santos, Pele donated his final year's salary to children's charities. He retired at age 34, taking the ball and kneeling at midfield during his final game. Pele had scored 1,280 goals in 1,362 matches, second only to Brazil's Arthur Freidenreich.
Several European teams tried to talk him into playing for them. Instead, Pele, who was facing some financial problems, eventually agreed to play for the North American Soccer League (NASL), signing a contract with the New York Cosmos for at least $4.5 million for three years, plus incentives. In the off season, Pele learned English and studied business management, invested in
real estate, and gave soccer clinics. He also received many offers to coach in Europe and Brazil, "but there's no way I can stand on the side of the field," he admitted to Time magazine.
Pele's entrance into the struggling NASL boosted Americans' interest in soccer. Within two years, players registered in the U.S. Soccer Federation increased from slightly over 100,000 to nearly 400,000. NASL attendance soared, and by 1977 a Cosmos playoff match drew 77,000 fans. Pele retired again after that season, playing a final exhibition game before 75,000 fans broadcast to 38 nations. In a speech before the game, Pele pleaded for the world's children and made everyone shout in the stadium after him: "Love! Love! Love!" The game pitted Cosmos against Santos, with Pele playing for the Cosmos and scoring a goal in the first half, and then playing the second half for Santos.
After the 1977 season, Pele wrote in the New York Times : "It seems that God brought me to Earth with a mission to unite people, never to separate them." When a movie was made about his life in 1977, titled Pele, he composed the sound track.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1956, 1958, 1960-62, 1964-65, 1967-69, 1973||Plays on Sao Paulo state champion team|
|1957-65, 1969, 1973||Top goal scorer in Sao Paulo league|
|1958, 1962, 1970||Plays on FIFA World Cup champion team|
|1959||Top goal scorer in Copa America|
|1961||Plays in Copa Liberatadores|
|1962-63||On World Club champion team|
|1962-65, 1968||On Brazilian Cup winner|
|1966||Plays in FIFA World Cup|
|1977||North American Soccer League champion team, Cosmos|
|1978||International Peace Award|
|1993||National Soccer Hall of Fame|
|1999||Athlete of the Century, National Olympic Committee|
|1999||World Sports Awards|
|2000||Second place, Sportsman of the Century award|
After leaving Brazil, Pele wasn't always popular in his native country. In 1988, Brazil, Morocco and the United States were named as the finalists for the 1994 World Cup, and he endorsed the United States, inspiring wrath in Brazil but helping to earn the games for the U.S. In 1994, Pele became sports minister of Brazil, and he spoke out against corrupt practices in the country's football confederation.
Few athletes in any sport commanded global notoriety like Pele. In the 20th century, Pele's only athletic rival for worldwide fame was boxer Muhammad Ali . He was the most exciting and productive soccer player in history, and he brought the game vastly increased attention, especially in countries such as the United States that were not already soccer-crazy. Pele also epitomized joy in sport, because he showed emotion openly on the field and was never aloof or distant. He was loved, admired, and respected worldwide, and his genuine honesty and humility made him an appealing role model.
Where Is He Now?
Pele remains active in business, charities and promotional activities, and continues to play a major role in his own coffee company, Pele Coffee. He is frequently a commentator on televised soccer games, and in 2001 signed a deal to be an analyst with the Pan American Sports Network.
Pele earns an estimated $30 million a year from endorsements and his businesses. He flies around the world representing many international companies, including Time Warner, MasterCard, Procter & Gamble, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, and his own Pele Sports & Marketing. Products endorsed by Pele range from soccer balls, clothing, and equipment to a Pele soccer video game. He became a spokesman for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company's anti-impotency drug, Viagra, in 2002.
Pele also continues to work for UNICEF and other children's organizations and is a noted philanthropist in his native Brazil, the United States, and around the world, often visiting impoverished countries.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY PELE:
(With Robert L. Fish) My Life and the Beautiful Game. Doubleday, 1977.
Harris, Harry and Joseph S. Blatter. Pele: His Life and Times. Welcome Rain, 2002.
Marcus, Joe. The World of Pele. Mason/Charter, 1976.
"Ali, Pele And Carl Lewis Honored At World Sports Awards Of The Century Gala." Jet, 97 (December 13, 1999): 48.
"Facing Football's Bald Facts: Brazil." The Economist (US), 345 (December 20, 1997): 33.
Hersch, Hank. "Pele (Forty for the Ages)." Sports Illustrated, 81 (September 19, 1994): 122.
"International: 141 Aids Pfizer in Viagra Awareness." PR Week (UK), (April 5, 2002): 6.
Kissinger, Henry A. "The Phenomenon: Pele." Time, 153 (June 14, 1999): 110.
"On a New Kick." Time, 158 (October 8, 2001).
"Panamerican Pele." Multichannel News International. 7 (April 2001): 12.
Swift, E.M. "A dream come true." Sports Illustrated, 80 (June 20, 1994): 86.
Thomsen, Ian. "A Great Revolution Was Afoot." Sports Illustrated, 91 (November 29, 1999): R36.
"Edson Arantes 'Pele' Nascimento." Latino Sports Legends http://www.latinosportslegends.com/Pele_bio.htm (January 3, 2003).
"Pele." International Football Hall of Fame. http://www.ifhof.com/hof/pele.asp (January 3, 2003).
"Pele - O Rei, The King, El Rey." 360 Soccer. http://www.360soccer.com/pele/(January 3, 2003).
"Pele to Advertise Viagra." On-line Pravda http://english.pravda.ru/fun/2002/02/01/26160.html (January 3, 2003).
"Play Soccer with Pele." 360 Soccer. http://www.360soccer.com/pele/peleplay.html (January 3, 2003).
Sketch by Michael Betzold
Born: October 23, 1940
Tres Coracoes, Brazil
Brazilian soccer star
Pelé, called "the Black Pearl," was one of the greatest soccer players in the history of the game. With a career total of 1,280 games, he may have been the world's most popular athlete in his prime.
A young talent
Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, who took the name Pelé, was born on October 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, the son of a minor league soccer player. Pelé grew up in an extremely poor neighborhood, where one of the only sources of entertainment for a poor boy was to play soccer, barefoot and with a makeshift ball. Many players on the Brazilian soccer fields gained nicknames that had no apparent meaning. His father was dubbed "Dondinho" and young Edson took the name "Pelé," though he does not recall how or why he picked up the name.
Pelé was coached by his father and the hard work soon paid off, for when he was eleven Pelé played for his first soccer team, that of the town of Bauru, Brazil. He moved up in competition with outstanding play and soon was one of the best players on the team. At the age of fifteen his mentor (an advisor), former soccer star Waldemar de Brito, brought him to Sao Paulo to try out for the major league teams. Pelé was quickly rejected. De Brito then took Pelé to Santos where he earned a spot on the soccer team. There, Pelé earned nearly five thousand cruzeiros (about sixty dollars) per month to play soccer. He soon received broader exposure when he was loaned to the Vasco da Gama team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In 1958 Pelé went to Stockholm, Sweden, to compete in the World Cup championship, the soccer championship that brings together all of the soccer-playing nations for one tournament. His play there helped his country win its first title as Pelé scored two goals in a dramatic 4-2 win over Sweden. He returned to Santos, and his team went on to win six Brazilian titles. In 1962 he again played on the Brazilian team that won the World Cup, but an injury forced him to sit out the contest.
Soccer is a low scoring game, but on November 19, 1969, before a crowd of one hundred thousand in Rio de Janeiro, Pelé scored his one thousandth goal. He lead the Sao Paolo League in scoring for ten straight seasons. He was not only a high scorer, but a master of ball handling as well. It seemed the ball was somehow attached to his feet as he moved down the field.
In 1970 Pelé again played for Brazil's World Cup team, and in Mexico City, Mexico, they beat Italy for the championship. It was Pelé's play, both in scoring and in setting up other goals, that won them the title. When he announced that he would retire from international competition after a game to be played July 18, 1971, plans were made to televise the event throughout the world. By the time he left the game he had scored a total of 1,086 goals.
After Pelé retired, he continued to play until he was signed to play for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League for a reported three-year, $7 million contract. A year later New York was at the top of their division, and in 1977 the Cosmos won the league championship. Pelé retired for good after that victory, but continued to be active in sports circles, becoming a commentator and promoter of soccer in the United States. When the World Cup was played in Detroit, Michigan, in 1994, Pelé was there, capturing the hearts of millions of fans around the world. Later that spring, he married his second wife, Assiria Seixas Lemos. In May of 1997, he was elected Minister of Sports in his home country of Brazil.
For More Information
Bodo, Peter, and David Hirshey. Pelé's New World. New York: Norton, 1977.
Canazares, Susan, and Samantha Berger. Pelé, the King of Soccer. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
Harris, Harry. Pelé: His Life and Times. New York: Parkwest, 2002.
Marcus, Joe. The World of Pelé. New York: Mason/Charter, 1976.
Pelé. My Life and the Beautiful Game. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.
Polynesian oral myths
Daughter of Haumea and Kane Milohai
In Polynesian mythology , Pele is the fire goddess of Hawaii. A powerful and destructive deity, she is said to live in the crater of the volcano of Kilauea (pronounced kee-law-AY-uh) on the big island of Hawaii. Perhaps the best-known deity of Hawaii, Pele appears in many myths and legends.
Like many figures in Polynesian mythology, Pele is a great traveler. She came to Hawaii from the island of Tahiti, but the reasons for her trip vary. Some myths say that she fled Tahiti to escape the anger of her older sister, whose husband she had stolen. In other stories, she was driven from Tahiti by her father, who did not condone her bad temper.
Pele's arrival in the Hawaiian Islands was accompanied by mighty volcanic eruptions. She visited various islands looking for a place to live, but the sea constandy flooded the sites she chose for a home. She finally found refuge in the volcano of Kilauea.
Once settled in Kilauea, Pele traveled to a neighboring island and fell in love with a young chief named Lohiau. After returning home, Pele sent her younger sister Hi'iaka (pronounced HEE-ee-ah-kah) to fetch the chief. She gave Hi'iaka supernatural powers, which the young woman used to overcome various obstacles during the journey.
When Hi'iaka arrived at the home of Lohiau, she found that the young chief had died of a broken heart caused by his longing for Pele. Hi'iaka caught his spirit and used her magical powers to restore him to life. Meanwhile, Pele became impatient, imagining that her sister had stolen Lohiau's love. The enraged Pele sent a stream of lava that killed Hopoe, Hi'iaka's dearest friend.
When Hi'iaka finally brought the young chief to Kilauea, she learned of the death of Hopoe. Grief stricken, she embraced Lohiau, whom she had come to love. Pele saw this and sent more lava to kill Lohiau. Protected by her magical powers, Hi'iaka later restored Lohiau to life again and went to live with him on his home island.
Many other legends deal with Pele's fiery temper and reveal how unpredictable and dangerous she could be. In some myths, she also appears as a water goddess who caused the seas to encircle the islands of Hawaii. Both Pele and Hi'iaka are considered goddesses of magic and sorcery as well as of the hula, the ancient sacred dance of Hawaii.
Pele in Context
Pele reflects attempts by the Hawaiian people to humanize the volcanoes that both shaped their homeland and have often threatened their very existence. Volcanoes are unpredictable and sometimes deadly. The depiction of this lava deity as a woman indicates a Hawaiian view of females as temperamental and prone to unpredictable moods and behaviors, or as shifting in personality. However, this may also reflect how Hawaiians interpreted some of the physical results of volcano activity. For example, winds around lava flows can create masses of long, thin strands of volcanic glass that resemble a woman's hair. These are commonly called “Pele's hair.” Teardrop-shaped beads of volcanic rock are also common, and are known as “Pele's tears”—and would certainly reflect the unpredictable personality of an enraged lava goddess.
Key Themes and Symbols
Pele symbolized rage, power, and unpredictability. She was the embodiment of the volcanoes that dominated the Hawaiian landscape. The volcano known as Kilauea is often considered to be a symbol of Pele. Rage is a key theme in the myths of Pele, and it plays a role in most of her actions. Her exile from Tahiti and the killing of Hopoe and Lohiau were both the result of rage caused by jealousy.
Pele in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Although Pele is one of the best-known deities in Polynesian mythology, she rarely appears in popular culture outside Hawaii. Singer and songwriter Tori Amos titled her 1996 album Boys for Pele in honor of the goddess, and the tide characters of the 2005 film The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D appear to be loosely based on Pele and her brother, who was a shark god.
Pele has also been the subject of a modern legend: in order to keep visitors from stealing rocks as souvenirs from Hawaii's volcano sites, a park ranger invented the myth that Pele would punish anyone who removed volcanic rock from Hawaii. The myth has been quite successful, resulting in many tourists sending stolen rocks back to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in order to lift the “curse.”
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Many cultures view their gods and natural events in terms of human characteristics and emotions. The term for this is “anthropomorphism.” An anthropomorphic view would see the violent and destructive eruption of a volcano as an expression of rage by the gods. Can you find contemporary examples of people viewing a deity or an act of nature in human terms? Do you think this is a helpful way of understanding the world around us? Why or why not?
SEE ALSO Polynesian Mythology
Edson Artantes do Nascimento, more famously known by his childhood nickname of Pelé, is one of the best soccer players ever to play the game. Nearly three decades after his retirement from competitive soccer, he is still idolized in his home country of Brazil. His "bicycle kick" started not only a movement in aggressive play but spurred sports scientists to break down the mechanics of previously simple actions such as striking the ball.
Pelé was the son of a soccer player. His soccer skills were evident early in his life, despite the lack of training facilities and equipment that were the result of poverty. By the time he was 11 years old, he had caught the attention of Waldemar de Brito, a famous Brazilian soccer player of the time. Invited to play for de Brito's amateur team, Pelé's talent soon brought him a professional contract offer from the Santos football club.
He joined Santos in 1956, when he was just 15 years of age. Pelé's professional debut was an auspicious four-goal performance. Later the same year, now 16 years old, he was a regular player for Santos, led the league in scoring, and joined the squad of the Brazilian national team.
Pelé played for Santos from 1956 to 1974. During that time, he scored over 1,200 goals (the most by any soccer player to date) and assisted on over 1,100 others in 1,360 games. His career on the Brazilian national team spanned 15 years, from 1956 until 1971. In international competitions, he averaged one goal per game.
Playing at midfield, Pelé had offensive and defensive skills that made him the best player in the world of his era, and debatably the finest player ever to play soccer. He was an exceptional attacker, whose speed and exceptional passing ability with either foot allowed him to move the ball quickly and accurately upfield. When given the opportunity to score, he seldom missed. He could direct the ball, with power and precision, using his head. He was also a skilled defender, and thus able to hinder the advance of the opposition players.
Of all his prodigious skills, Pelé is most famous for a move dubbed the "bicycle kick." In this move, he would leap into the air, somersaulting during flight, so that his feet moved above his head. In a coordinated motion that looked similar to the pedaling motion of bike riding, he would kick the ball with one of his feet. The move was performed with his back to the net; the kick would send the ball rocketing toward, often into, the net.
Two years after joining the national squad, Pelé led his team to victory in the World Cup. Only 17 years old, he was a dominant player, especially in the team's victory match, in which he scored twice. He played in three more World Cups, in 1962, 1966, and 1970. Brazil was victorious in the 1962 and 1970 campaigns.
During his career, Pelé was coerced to join European soccer clubs with tremendously lucrative offers. However, to ensure that his career would not take him away from Brazil, the government officially declared him to be a national treasure.
After his retirement from Brazilian soccer competition in 1974, Pelé resumed his professional career in 1975 by joining the New York Cosmos of the fledgling North American Soccer League. His salary—reportedly $7 million for three years—was the highest at that time. His presence helped popularize and legitimize soccer in North America.
He retired from competitive soccer in 1977. In his two-season career with the Cosmos, he scored over 100 goals and had 65 assists. Since then, he has been an active participant in activities of the United Nations, including UNICEF and U.N. environmental initiatives. The honors he has received include an honorary British Knighthood in 1992 and recognition as Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee in 1999 (although he never played in Olympic competition). In an age when video games have become universally popular, Pelé is also noteworthy for being the first sports figure featured in a video game, a product of the Atari company that was called Pele's Soccer.
Pelé remains an internationally recognized personality and soccer ambassador.
Pele (born 1940), called "the Black Pearl, " was the greatest soccer player in the history of the game. With a career total of 1, 280 games, he may have been the world's most popular athlete.
Edson Arantes Do Nascimento Pele, who took the name Pele, was born October 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, the son of a soccer player. His father's coaching paid off, for when he was 11 he played for his first soccer team, that of the town of Bauru, Brazil. He moved up in competition with outstanding play, and when he was 15 he was playing for the team from the village of Santos. He soon received broader exposure when he was loaned to the Vasco da Gama team in Rio di Janeiro.
In 1958 he went to Stockholm, Sweden to compete in the World Cup championship. His play there helped his country win its first title. He returned to Santos, and his team went on to win six Brazilian titles. In 1962 he again played on the World Cup team, but an injury forced him to sit out the contest.
Soccer is a low scoring game, but on November 19, 1969, before a crowd of 100, 000 in Rio di Janeiro, Pele scored his 1, 000th goal. He was not only a high scorer, but a master of ball handling as well. It seemed that the ball was somehow attached to his feet as he moved down the field.
In 1970 Pele again played for Brazil's World Cup team, and in Mexico City they beat Italy for the championship. It was Pele's play, both in scoring and in setting up other goals, that won them the title. When he announced that he would retire from international competition after a game to be played July 18, 1971, plans were made to televise the event throughout the world. He had scored a total of 1, 086 goals. After his retirement he continued to play until he was signed to play for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League for a reported three-year, $7 million contract. A year later New York was at the top of their division, and in 1977 the Cosmos won the league championship. Pele retired for good after that victory, but continued to be active in sports circles, becoming a commentator and promoter of soccer in the United States. When the World Cup came to Detroit in 1994, Pele was there, capturing the hearts of millions of fans around the world. Later that spring, he married his second wife, Assiria Seixas Lemos. In May of 1997, he was elected Minister of Sports in his home country of Brazil.
Two books—Joe Marcus' The World of Pele (1976) and Pele's New World (1977) by Peter Bodo and David Hirshey—provide excellent reading, as well as illustrations. The best book on Pele is by Pele himself—My Life and the Beautiful Game (1977). □
In Polynesian mythology, Pele is the fire goddess of Hawaii. A powerful and destructive deity, she is said to live in the crater of the volcano of Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii. Perhaps the best-known deity of Hawaii, Pele appears in many myths and legends.
Like many figures in Polynesian mythology, Pele is a great traveler. She came to Hawaii from the island of Tahiti, but the reasons for her trip vary. Some myths say that she fled Tahiti to escape the anger of her older sister, whose husband she had stolen. In other stories, she was driven from Tahiti by a great flood or went to Hawaii simply because she wished to travel.
Pele's arrival in the Hawaiian Islands was accompanied by mighty volcanic eruptions. She visited various islands looking for a place to live, but the sea constantly flooded the sites she chose for a home. She finally found refuge in the volcano of Kilauea.
Once settled in Kilauea, Pele traveled to a neighboring island and fell in love with a young chief named Lohiau. After returning home, Pele sent her young sister Hi'iaka to fetch the chief. She gave Hi'iaka supernatural powers, which the young woman used to overcome various obstacles during the journey.
When Hi'iaka arrived at the home of Lohiau, she found that the young chief had died of a broken heart caused by his longing for Pele. Hi'iaka caught his spirit and used her magical powers to restore him to life. Meanwhile, Pele became impatient, imagining that her sister had stolen Lohiau's love. The enraged Pele sent a stream of lava that killed Hopoe, the dearest friend of Hi'iaka.
deity god or goddess
When Hi'iaka finally brought the young chief to Kilauea, she learned of the death of Hopoe. Grief stricken, she embraced Lohiau, whom she had come to love. Pele saw this and sent more lava to kill Lohiau. Protected by her magical powers, Hi'iaka later restored Lohiau to life again and went to live with him on his home island.
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous
patron special guardian, protector, or supporter
Many other legends deal with Pele's fiery temper and reveal how unpredictable and dangerous she could be. In some myths, she also appears as a water goddess who caused the seas to encircle the islands of Hawaii. Both Pele and Hi'iaka are considered patrons of magic and sorcery as well as of the hula, the ancient sacred dance of Hawaii.
See also Polynesian Mythology.