A Conversation with Galeano: Part One

Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan journalist, has written a beautiful book called Soccer in Sun and Shadow that may only be described as pure fun. While I will probably drain the fun out of his writing during this analysis, I want to engage a few excerpts from his book with snippets from sportsBabel:

The Player

Panting, he runs up the wing. On one side await the heavens of glory; on the other, ruin's abyss.

He's the envy of the neighbourhood: the professional athlete who escaped the factory or the office and gets paid to have fun. He won the lottery. And even if he does have to sweat buckets, with no right to fatigue or failure, he gets into the papers and on TV, his name is on the radio, women swoon over him and children yearn to be like him. But he started out playing for pleasure in the dirt streets of the slums, and now he plays out of duty in stadiums where he has no choice but to win or to win.

Businessmen buy, sell him, lend him; and he lets it all happen in return for the promise of more fame and more money. The more successful he is and the more money he makes, the more of a prisoner he becomes. Forced to live by military discipline, he suffers the punishing daily round of training and the bombardments of painkillers and cortisone to forget his aches and fool his body. And on the eve of big games, they lock him up in a concentration camp where he does forced labor, eats tasteless food, gets drunk on water and sleeps alone.

*     *     *

This is Galeano articulating the Foucauldian nature of modern sport. I have described as much here at sportsBabel, from the carceral nature of the sports stadium, to the imprisoning nature of living in the professional athlete spotlight/gaze, to the way that athletic labour is essentially linked to the apparatus of production — not only to produce uncertain game outcomes, but also a steady stream of images, information and identities.

Galeano's footballer in the slums retrieved thoughts on the soles of the downtrodden, while his comments on painkillers reminded me of Steve McNair, the Sports Guy and being comfortably numb.

What is disconcerting is that he uses these words in critiquing what is purportedly the "beautiful game." Yet his joy for the game shows throughout his writing in the book. How to reconcile the two?


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