“The Beautiful Game:” Tribute to Pele

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” ~ Pelé

On December 29, 2022, Brazilian futbol great Pelé passed away at the age of 82, in São Paulo, Brazil. He learned how to play football from his father as a child, and at age 17, he led Brazil to a World Cup in 1958. Pelé would also go on to lead Brazil to two more World Cups in 1962 and 1970.  He was appointed as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1994, and then Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso created the position of Extraordinary Minister for Sport for him in 1995. Pelé was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and helped to inaugurate the FIFA World Cup finals in 2006. 

9/10/1986 President Reagan with soccer player Pele and President Sarney of Brazi during a state dinner in the blue room (NAID 75855009)

Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born on October 23, 1940, to Dondinho and Celeste Arantes in Tres Coracoes, Brazil. Growing up impoverished in southeastern Brazil, Pelé had to improvise with various objects, including a grapefruit, to use as a soccer ball. His natural skill and technique allowed him the opportunity to try out for Santos FC at the age of 15. Pelé quickly became the leading scorer for the futbol club and was invited to join the National Club Soccer Team. Playing for both teams, at the same time, Pelé led them to 9 San Paulo State Championships, 3 Rio-Sao Paulo Interstate Championships, 2 South American International Club Competitions, and 2 Inter-Continental Cups.

Jimmy Carter with Pele (NAID 174196)

Pelé played for Santos FC for 19 years. He left Brazil in 1976 and signed a $7 million contract to play for the New York Cosmos FC. This move made him the highest paid soccer player in North America. During his four years with the Cosmos FC, Pele was the 1976 MVP (Most Valuable Player) and led the club to a 1977 North American Soccer League (NASL) Championship. After his career as a futbol player, Pelé worked as a humanitarian fighting for the needs of the poor in Brazil. He was inducted into the Brazilian National Soccer Hall of Fame and in 2000, Pelé was awarded the Sportsman of the Century Award by the Federation Internationale de Football Association.

Pelé met with several United States Presidents relating to his soccer programs and humanitarian concerns. The presidential libraries holds several photographs of Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan interacting with the soccer legend. Other series that contain documentation related to Pelé at the National Archives include RG 174 Photographic Prints of Occupations and Labor Activities in the United States, 1971-1982 (National Archives Identifier 533850) and RG 306 Moving Images Relating to U.S. Domestic and International Activities, 1982-1999 (National Archives Identifier 46890).

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