I am by no means an impassioned sports fan, and yet even a neophyte such as myself could hardly miss the hubbub surrounding the recent World Cup. Certainly, the rarity of an event that only occurs once every few years had something to do with that, much like the Olympics. And having co-workers and friends on social media — especially some who definitely prefer American football to Association football — constantly singing the praises of Team USA piqued my curiosity. So I guess you could say that I became an “incidental” follower of the beautiful game. I certainly had nothing at stake one way or the other, though I wanted “my” team to do as well as possible.
I say that lightly, and with no snark or silliness whatsoever, lest I anger any of the game’s more passionate fans. And soccer is well-known for its passionate fans, including their intense, passionate loyalty and behavior (some of it good, some of it not so good). Soccer is in the blood for many, and as is the case with any sports, it’s a bitter pill to swallow when the home team loses.
Being the incidental fan that I am, I didn’t actually realize what had happened until I went online and saw social media channels flooded with pictures of dejected and demoralized Brazil fans. One picture, of an older gentleman holding a replica World Cup trophy, became particularly popular: BuzzFeed gave it the rather grandiose distinction of “The One Photo That Captures The Pathos Of Brazil’s World Cup Collapse.”
Underlying a lot of this social media activity seemed to be a sense of schadenfreude. After all, this was Brazil, a soccer powerhouse as well as the host country. We like to see the big guys stumble, to see them undermined by their pride and hubris, just as much as we like to see the little guy beat all of the odds and come out on top — though to be fair, Germany isn’t exactly an underdog.
In the midst of all of this, a sad Brazilian fan became an Internet meme.
As is the case with so many memes, there’s another side to this tale of woe. Pictured is Clovis Fernandes, and he’s a really big fan of Brazil’s soccer team, maybe the biggest. He’s traveled all over the world to attend games and calls himself Brazil’s 12th player. His devotion is so great that FIFA produced a mini documentary about him.
So yes, if anyone had a right to be shocked, overcome, and dejected during Brazil’s loss, it would be Fernandes. Social media, of course, was there to capture and communicate that sadness, and make it the end-all, be-all of the Brazilian response.
Notice how quickly pain, sadness, and suffering are shared and communicated on our blogs, Facebook feeds, and Twitter streams. Certainly, the aforementioned schadenfreude is a factor, but we also feel a wee bit of empathy for the poor guy. It’s hard not to wince at the dismay in his puffy eyes, or the way his glorious mustache seems to droop off his face. Of course empathy doesn’t prevent us from sharing or retweeting, widening the circle of the meme, which by its very nature (as a meme), is simplistic and reductionistic.
But in doing so, we gloss over the beautiful side of the story. Fernandes may be Team Brazil’s biggest fan, but he’s also its classiest one. What we didn’t see in that initial chronicling of Brazil’s tragic loss on social media was what followed: Fernandes embracing German fans, saluting their victory, giving them his replica trophy, and encouraging them.
I’ve written before about how a single act of grace — which, in Fernandes’ case, takes the form of genuine sportsmanship — can ring out with dazzling, astonishing clarity against the world’s sorrow, anger, and brokenness. Here in the midst of a social media blitz that was clearly finding joy and humor in Brazil’s defeat, an old Brazilian soccer fan showed us all up with a dash of grace and class and in the process, made the already elegant game something truly remarkable.
This entry was originally published on Christ and Pop Culture on .