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Soccer star Pele in his youth in black and white photo. Mostly profile holding soccer ball.

Pelé: Athlete and Ambassador, 1940 – 2022

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Latter-day photo of Pele, eyes closed, resting his head on side of soccer ball that he holds in his hands.
From the SPORT: Iooss and Leifer exhibition, 2009-2010, made possible by Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Space for Photography. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Click here to listen to Pelé’s 1993 interview:

Throughout 2022, the world of sports lost many greats, and just when the year was almost over, one more living legend passed into history:   Pelé, soccer’s world ambassador and one of the greatest players in any sport.  He died on December 29th in São Paulo, Brazil.

Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, learned the game first from his father.  And, as a child, he practiced the sport with makeshift balls made from available materials.  Yet by the age of 16, he was playing professionally and was immediately a force to be reckoned with.  Soon, he would lead Brazil’s national team to victory in the 1958 World Cup, the first of his three world championship teams.  In the 1970s, he and other international stars, who would finish their careers in the United States, introduced many American fans to the sport.

In 1993, Pelé joined Ron Barr of “Sports Byline U.S.A.” for an interview and call-in session with listeners, and he was, as always, full of the love of life and love for his chosen sport.  Barr opened the program with his recollection of seeing Pelé play in Seattle on his 1977 farewell tour with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League and still marveling at “the energy that came out of that stadium…the love for Pelé” that manifested as Pelé circled the field at the end of the match.

The interview covered Pelé’s long career and his post-retirement activities.  Pelé recalled his early days playing indoor soccer in Brazil as a teenager, and he offered advice to young players.  He commented on the demise of the North American Soccer League through over expansion but observed that nevertheless, “soccer is a reality here,” with 20 million Americans playing the game regularly.

“Growing up and playing soccer, Pelé was the gold standard in soccer players,” Barr, who learned the game overseas during his childhood, recently reflected.  “Later, when I broadcast his game against the Seattle Sounders, on July 4th 1977 in his farewell tour, I not only marveled at his creative playing skill, but how soccer fans who watched the game so enthusiastically loved him. Interviewing him after the game and later on ‘Sports Byline U.S.A.,’ I came to understand his passion for the ‘beautiful game’ and why he was considered soccer’s worldwide, ambassador and the greatest of all time.”

Since 1988, the “Sports Byline U.S.A.” radio series has regularly presented interviews with notable figures from the world of sports.  To date, they have aired over 7,700 such interviews with athletes, coaches, trainers, managers, owners, writers and others from the realms of baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, golf, track and field and other sports.

To read more about the “Sports Byline U.S.A.” Collection at the Library of Congress, and listen to other interviews, click here.

Youthful photo of Pele, international soccer star, in vertically stripped shirt, kicking soccer ball in the air with his left foot.
Pelé, full-length portrait, kicking soccer ball in the air, 1965. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.



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