By Javier Soegaard
And irony of ironies! as we like to say here at Catholic How.
ESPN posted a wonderful article by acclaimed sports journalist Wright Thompson this morning called “The Rio the World Cup Didn’t Show.” In it Thompson talks about his encounters with social advocates and journalists working in the tattered and violent streets of Rio’s favelas.
As someone who watched about 85% of the World Cup games, I can corroborate Thompson’s headline. Live ammunition, non-existent sewage systems, drug cartels—these were never part of the coverage. All I saw were beach parties and varying angles of Cristo Redentor. And Chris Wondolowski miss that open net. It still haunts me. Why Wondo? WHYYYYYY?
Several lines into the piece, however, my head began to shake in cynicism—shouldn’t the headline have read “The Rio that ESPN Didn’t Show”? I understand that the Worldwide Leader has a very specific and particular mission: to show sports all of the time—and I love them for that. Yet I question the wisdom of running a piece about forgotten narratives and unheralded social movements when in fact you were the network with all the cameras and journalists in the area. It’s only a minor slap in the face to those affected by the social turmoil in Brazil.
However, as someone who was not berating ESPN from the get-go about their lack of coverage of the realities of Brazilian life, my own indignation in this post is itself ironic. Why did it take me until the end of the joy and the heartbreak of World Cup soccer to remember the mind-blowing injustices in urban Brazil? Would I have even watched those segments if they had aired?
These are troubling questions to ask, and they tempt us to take a gloomy posture in which we think that no one really cares for the poor, especially in the world of major sports.
Then teary-eyed and defeated athletes like David Luiz enter the scene. After Brazil’s crushing defeat at the hands of the to-be überchampions, the Brazilian captain said this:
“I am sorry for the Brazilian people…The team, we wanted to make them happy. We wanted to do this for the people who have suffered so much in Brazil. We wanted to make you happy in the World Cup but we couldn’t do it.”
He wasn’t mourning for his career, or for his family, or for his teammates. He was mourning for those who suffer most, the poorest of the poor—the ones who live in fear live bullets, who smell their own sewage, and who are recruited by the cartels. It was a remarkable display of solidarity from an international icon and spoke more to the heartbeat of the country than any pieces of on-air journalism throughout the Copa.
I’ve heard a lot of people argue over the years that sports distracts people from what is really going on in the world. I was hoping this year’s World Cup would change that. Perhaps ESPN did not provide sufficient coverage of the realities of Brazilian life during their World Cup coverage. Perhaps they were silly to post an article which basically self-indicted their utter lack of attention to Brazilian poverty. Perhaps NBC will do a better job when Olympics 2016 rolls around.
But perhaps we shouldn’t wait around another two years just to find out the gravity of Brazilian poverty, and while we’re at it–the crippling poverty that exists worldwide. We’re not dumb or resourceless people. We have interwebz and we have hearts. Let us then, in the wake of Germany’s victory, be increasingly mindful of the unrest in impoverished Brazil and persevering in our discernment of how we can pray and act on behalf of the poor.