Author: Andrew Downie, published September 2017 by Simon & Schuster; 400 pages
Review: Kirk Bowman, Jon R. Wilcox Chair in Soccer and Global Politics, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs
Georgia Institute of Technology
A detailed, brilliant, and evenhanded biography of the legendary Brazilian soccer player Socrates is a wonderful read at this moment when many decry the mixing of politics and sports.
Socrates was a singular figure, a hyper-flawed hero who performed heroic acts in spite of demons and paradoxical weaknesses: Socrates was a medical doctor who smoke and drank himself to an early death, a philosopher who avoided politics for much of his life, and one of Brazil’s greatest soccer players who did not like to watch or practice the beautiful game.
The apex of Socrates’ story is his leadership role in the creation of Corinthians Democracy in 1982, 18 years after the military coup ended democracy. Corinthians is one of the biggest soccer clubs in Brazil, with some 30 million supporters.
The Corinthians Democracy movement created horizontal self-management in the hierarchical world of soccer; team members voted on everything from where the bus stopped for a bathroom break to which players to sign. The players wore kits with democratic slogans and human rights messages and the movement became a rallying point for civil society and demands for voting rights for all. Brazil began re-democratizing in 1985. Sports are always political, just not always as democratic and consequential as Dr. Socrates.