Note from BW of Brazil: OK so there’s no way to avoid the obvious: The World Cup is HERE!! Cities are crazy, traffic, fireworks blowing blowing up and….MORE protests! Can you imagine the craziness?!?!? With so much that could be said, today for the opening of the Copa do Mundo, we share a perspective on one of the brightest stars of the Cup that one doesn’t often here. Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is arguably one of the most gifted players to come out of Brazil, well, in only a few years as the nation has been a factory of futebol’s finest for well over 60 years. As this blog covers aspects of Brazilian current events, history and culture from a racial perspective, this is once again the focus of today’s post.
Stakes are high as Brazil’s costly hosting of the 2014 Cup brings the 22-year phenomenon home to compete for the country’s sixth World Cup title. Also, entering today’s game, Neymar’s 50th for the Seleção Brasileira (Brazilian National Team), the star lacks only one goal to enter the top 10 list of all-time goal scorers for the team, an elite circle featuring names such Ronaldo, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Romário, Rivaldo and at the top of the list, “Rei Pelé” (King Pelé).
BW of Brazil has already featured Neymar on a number of posts so this isn’t actually news, but again, as his star is so bright, it isn’t a common discussion that one hears about the poster boy of a wide array of Brazilian products. But Neymar’s positions (or non-positions) on matters of race have, like his skills on the field, drawn various comparisons with Brazil’s undisputed most famous star futebolista of African descent.
Neymar and racism: a tragedy in four acts
by Marcel Pilatti
Racism is a problem inherent to humans: it has been like this throughout history – Slavery, for hundreds of years, and illegitimate regimes such as Nazism and apartheid or racial segregation on public transportation in the US during the 20th century, caused irreversible damage.
Nowadays (although without the backing of the law, as in the past) etnophobia continues to exist and directly affect blacks and migrants. With little chance to express their prejudice in everyday situations, certain of repression and punishment, many choose to use football as a means of expressing discriminatory acts.
Recently, Paulo César Caju made a very strong statement about Pelé: “He has contributed to racism,” he said. “The guy is the athlete of the century, the most popular figure in the world and doesn’t use it to fight for just causes. (…) If he had a bit of sense or sensibility, he would make a revolution in (regards to) this case [racism]. He has more impact than political and religious leaders,” argued the former player.
The critique of Caju (that was part of the 1970 World Cup team in which Pele shone intensely) was made specifically about Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but somehow it applies to many other cases – Michael Jordan himself, at the height of his fabulous career, was criticized for supposedly “caring more about selling his shoes than with the cause of blacks.”
I speak of the greatness, importance and impact that idols have. One thing is to question his political actions (or lack of); another, are the causes that they defend – or ignore.
Today, like it or not, Neymar is the biggest idol of national futebol. Discussing his quality as a player is stupid: he has tremendous talent, and has already proved it in different contexts. On the other hand, discussing his public image and how he uses it is something that deserves a lot of reflections. The main one of them is in respect to his attitudes towards the racial issue.
Here is a pathetic story that can be summarized in four episodes.
Act 1: Black, who me?
Neymar emerged in futebol in 2009, just 17 years old, and right away he would lead Santos to the final of the São Paulo Championship. Throughout the year, the ace was growing physically and technically and started shaking up social networks nationwide. Early in the following season, he was nominated for the Puskas Award – which he would win in 2012 – for the great goal against Santo André.
He would ascend to position of star. He was on the cover of magazines, and began to appear with frequency on athletic programs in the country.
In April of that year, the young player – who has become of age – gave an extensive interview to the journalist Sonia Racy, of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. The topics were varied: his family background, his religion, his dreams of consumption and success: “There’s no boring part [of being famous],” said the young star.
At a certain point in the conversation the inevitable question came up: “Have you ever been a victim of racism,” Racy asked. Neymar’s response: “Never. Neither on nor off the field. Really because eu não sou preto (I’m not black), right?”
Act 2: Banana to the English
A little less than a year later, in March of 2011, the Brazilian team faced Scotland in a scrimmage in London. Neymar played very well, scoring the national team’s two goals.
Despite his good performance, the Brazilian’s game was marked by an external act: the athlete competed for the ball near the end line when a banana was thrown in his direction. The game was stopped, the banana removed, the offender identified and punished, hours later.
Soon after the match, Neymar was asked about the incident and responded by saying that “we’re utterly sad. It’s better not to touch on the subject.”
Act 3: It’s in the fur of the monkey that the bug catches hold
In January 2012, Neymar had already achieved status as national hero: he had established himself as a leader of the national team and would go on to make the list of nominees for the Bola de Oura (Golden Ball) Award.
On the 30th of that month, the music video of the song “Kong” debuted. In the video, men dressed as gorillas danced amidst women wearing bikinis. The main stars of the production: singer Alexandre Pires, songwriter and singer of the song, and Neymar, who acted as a sort of master of ceremonies in the script. Funk rapper Mr. Catra also appeared in a gorilla suit.
The chorus was very clear: “É no pelo do macaco que o bicho vai pegar (It’s in the monkey’s hair that the bug catches on.” Followed to exhaustion by the title of the track (“Kong, kong, kong…”).
Pires would later be asked to “make clarifications” to the MP (Ministério Público or Public Prosecutor) due to the alleged racism in the lyrics, and especially in the video. He granted an interview to Globo TV Sunday evening TV journal Fantástico rejecting the accusations.
Neymar, no one contested.
Act 4: #SomosTodosMacacos (We are all monkeys)
In April 2014, after another defeat of Barcelona, the Catalan team’s fans went to the teams’s training center and insulted the players, saying they “only think about the World Cup” and are not committed to the team. When passing Neymar, fans imitated the sound made by monkeys – as fans in Peru did toward another black player, Tinga.
The idol of the Brazilian team didn’t say anything on the subject, limiting himself to posting cryptic messages (“there are times when the path is difficult”) on his Instagram. In the meantime, he suffered an injury and was out of the remaining matches of the season.
Two weeks later, Barcelona faced Villarreal an opponent’s supporter threw a banana at Daniel Alves, another Brazilian player. The right-back picked it up off of the ground and ate it. His act was as simple as it was significant: it was meant to be offensive, but it up being extinguished at that very moment, and also contributed to the player recharging his energy with that source of free potassium.
Alves’s act was nothing short of genius.
A few hours later, Neymar sent a “Força Daniel” (meaning “have strength/power Daniel, stand strong”) message followed by the hashtag #SomosTodosMacacos (We are all monkeys) on his profile on social networks. In the photo, the star was shown holding a banana with his son, who held a toy banana.
When reading a news story about Neymar’s gesture, my first reaction was to think that at last he has awaken to a reality that he always wanted to hide or which he never really cared about.
Then celebrities – ranging from Sérgio Mallandro to Luana Piovanni, as well as Ivete Sangalo and Michel Teló – and their millions of followers also reproduced similar images with the same wording.
The act resonated so much that even Carlos Miguel Aidar, president of the São Paulo Futebol Clube, held a collective press conference with bunches of bananas in front of him, ingesting them between one question and another. Aidar, who said he wanted (another Brazilian star player) Kaká on the SPFC team because the athlete “is literate, has all of his teeth…”, also joining in the fight against racism!
So, when I was already feeling paranoid and ashamed, I learned that the great message of support/ protest by Neymar was actually part of a campaign created by the publicity agency Loducca. Less than a day later there was even a t-shirt (a brand by popular TV host Luciano Huck, one the famous people who posted a photo with bananas) with the slogan “Somos Todos Macacos” for sale. The price? 69 reais (about 31 US dollars).
Neymar dreams of being equal to Pelé on the soccer field, preferably winning the World Cup which takes place in just over a month. If he’’’ get it or not we still don’t know.
Source: Revista Bula