Roman Mars [00:00:02] With one of the best savings rates in America, banking with Capital One is the easiest decision in the history of decisions–even easier than deciding to listen to another episode of your favorite podcast. And with no fees or minimums on checking and savings accounts, is it even a decision? Get started today. It only takes about five minutes to open an account with Capital One, and there’s no minimum to open and keep your account. That’s a banking reimagined. What’s in your wallet? Terms apply. See capitalone.com/bank. Capital One N.A. Member FDIC. Hey there, listeners. Back in 2017, we ran an episode about the history of Brazil’s iconic yellow national soccer jersey. We were reminded of that story during the recent World Cup and then again on January 8th, as a mob of right-wing rioters attacked the Brazilian capitol–many of them wearing those iconic yellow shirts. Needless to say, the story of the yellow jersey has taken some real twists and turns in recent years, so today, we’re going to rerun the original story about the jersey’s origins. And then producer Emmett FitzGerald is going to update us on everything that has happened since. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. When a Brazilian soccer player scores a goal, the announcer starts slow. And it builds. Until it reaches a glorious crescendo.
Joe Sykes [00:01:43] They do this all over the world now. But it started in Brazil. And there’s something particularly triumphant about it there.
Roman Mars [00:01:50] That’s producer Joe Sykes.
Joe Sykes [00:01:52] That’s because soccer means so much to Brazil.
Fernando Duarte [00:01:56] How can I explain what soccer means to Brazilians without sounding corny? But I think I’m going to have to sound corny. Okay.
Joe Sykes [00:02:02] That’s Fernando Duarte, a BBC journalist who wrote a book about Brazilian soccer. Soccer–or “football,” as I call it, being British–arrived in Brazil in the late 19th century. At first it was a game played in elite circles and in cities. But poor and working-class Brazilians struggled to make the game their own.
Fernando Duarte [00:02:23] The only time the elites were robbed, or they were deprived of something by the poor people–by the common folk–is when football ceased to be a game for the elites and became a mass sport.
Roman Mars [00:02:37] Soccer eventually became so popular and beloved in Brazil that their national team’s soccer jersey has become as much a national symbol as the country’s flag.
Fernando Duarte [00:02:46] You’re going to see many more people in Brazil wearing the shirts than waving the flag. It’s a sense of belonging. No matter if you earn, you know, peanuts picking up old soda cans on the street or if you’re a millionaire–when you wear that shirt, you’re just, like, one of us.
David Goldblatt [00:03:03] Those shirts are extraordinary. They are scintillating. In fact, I think the word is “coruscating.”
Joe Sykes [00:03:11] That’s the soccer writer and historian David Goldblatt.
David Goldblatt [00:03:14] There are flashes of diamond light coming off of those shirts.
Roman Mars [00:03:18] The Brazilian soccer shirts are so iconic that non-soccer fans all over the world can often picture them. But for those of you who can’t, the shirt is a bright canary yellow with green trim around the collar and sleeves. They’re worn with blue shorts, a pure primary blue. Compared with other soccer jerseys, the uniform is joyful and bold. It seems to capture something essential about Brazil.
Joe Sykes [00:03:41] But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, Brazil used to play in plain, unremarkable, white shirts.
Roman Mars [00:03:48] The story of how the uniform changed goes back 70 years to an epic soccer game that Brazilians will never forget. After years of lobbying, the World Cup arrived in Brazil in 1950. At the time, the country was culturally and internationally kind of unknown. This was Brazil’s big moment to show the world what it was made of.
David Goldblatt [00:04:10] The 1950 World Cup was understood by the Brazilian population as an opportunity to say to the world, “Brazil has arrived.”
Joe Sykes [00:04:19] They knew this World Cup was their chance to tell everyone.
David Goldblatt [00:04:23] “We have modernized. We have been transformed. We’ve moved from being an agricultural plantation economy to a new urban, industrialized economy. And this is our way of showing it.”
Joe Sykes [00:04:34] The main symbol of that coming out, apart from what was happening on the soccer field, was the stadium named the Maracana, in Rio de Janeiro.
David Goldblatt [00:04:43] It looks like the stadium from outer space. I mean, it is this fabulous, flat, white concrete oval with amazing flying buttresses.
Joe Sykes [00:04:54] Just like this huge flying saucer that had dropped down in the center of the city.
David Goldblatt [00:04:58] But done with this sort of incredible sort of modernist elegance. I mean, it was the greatest stadium built since the Coliseum.
Joe Sykes [00:05:08] So they had the stadium. The people were behind them. The government was pushing the tournament whenever possible. Now all they needed was a successful team.
Fernando Duarte [00:05:20] The expectations were high because of this whole climate–the atmosphere of optimism.
Joe Sykes [00:05:28] In one of their earlier games, Brazil strode confidently onto the field in their white uniforms and proceeded to demolish Sweden 7 to 1.
David Goldblatt [00:05:37] Brazil were absolutely fantastic in the opening rounds. They were slaughtering everybody, scoring goals all over the place. They beat Spain 6-1.
Joe Sykes [00:05:48] They also beat Mexico and Yugoslavia. The tournament was going exactly to plan.
Fernando Duarte [00:05:54] It was this whole atmosphere of, like, sporting bliss. And all they had to do is get a draw with Uruguay in the last match.
Joe Sykes [00:06:02] Because of a quirk in the tournament structure, all Brazil had to do to win the World Cup was tie against Uruguay in their final game.
Roman Mars [00:06:13] Uruguay historically had been a really strong team, even though they’re a tiny country–almost 50 times smaller than Brazil. But by the time this 1950 World Cup came along, Uruguay was a waning power in soccer. So, beating them–or at least tying them–seemed totally doable. Not a problem.
Joe Sykes [00:06:31] Still, Uruguay was no pushover, especially when they were playing against Brazil. Uruguay actually used to be a Brazilian province. So, they had this chip on their shoulder about their older, bigger next-door neighbor.
Fernando Duarte [00:06:44] The whole thing of being Uruguayan, going against the odds, fighting against an old colonial power.
Joe Sykes [00:06:51] It spurred them on.
Roman Mars [00:06:53] Meanwhile, the whole of Rio is now thinking about just one thing–the World Cup final.
David Goldblatt [00:06:59] There really is mass hysteria about it. Everybody knows about it. Everyone’s engaged with it. Everyone wants to go. No one can talk or think about anything else.
Joe Sykes [00:07:09] In Brazil, people like to say that if everybody who claimed to have been in the stadium that afternoon was actually there, the stadium would have needed to be the size of the moon.
Roman Mars [00:07:19] And it was a big crowd. Some estimate that there were 250,000 screaming fans packed into this flying saucer stadium, which is something like 80,000 people over capacity.
Joe Sykes [00:07:30] And the players, when they walked out, were just hit with this wall of noise.
David Goldblatt [00:07:37] The place is noisy. It is raucous.
Roman Mars [00:07:41] But in the first half, neither team scores.
Fernando Duarte [00:07:44] So the crowd was getting nervous. Everybody was getting tense.
Roman Mars [00:07:48] Then finally, Brazil scores a goal.
Announcer [00:07:51] Goal!
Joe Sykes [00:07:51] Just after half time, a low shot across the goalkeeper into the bottom corner of the net. And there’s just this relief that surges all around the crowd. Even the journalists run on and embrace the players.
Roman Mars [00:08:06] Because basically everyone there thinks the game is all over–that Brazil has won the World Cup.
Joe Sykes [00:08:12] But then…
Announcer [00:08:15] Goal, Uruguay!
Joe Sykes [00:08:16] Uruguay scores about halfway through the second half.
Fernando Duarte [00:08:19] The description by whoever was there is, like, the stadium felt very, very nervous. And this nervousness went to the players–almost like they were losing the game. And then comes the moments that everybody will always narrate.
Joe Sykes [00:08:33] Alcides Ghiggia, one of the Uruguayan wingers, gets the ball and dribbles down the right side toward the goal. And just as he’s looking up to pass the ball, he notices…
Fernando Duarte [00:08:42] That the goalkeeper Barbosa was actually walking to try to anticipate a cross.
Roman Mars [00:08:49] Which meant Barbosa was out of position. So instead of passing the ball, Ghiggia shoots…
Announcer [00:08:55] Goal!
Roman Mars [00:08:55] And scores.
Announcer [00:08:55] Goal, Uruguay! Ghiggia. They pulled a goal, Uruguay.
David Goldblatt [00:09:02] All of the reports talk about the most extraordinary silence in the stadium.
Fernando Duarte [00:09:11] Alcides Ghiggia once said in his book, “Only three people in the history of the Maracana silenced the crowds: Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II, and me.” It’s almost like a graveyard. Some of the players don’t even remember what happened. It was a state of catatonia or something like that.
Roman Mars [00:09:28] As you have probably guessed by now, Brazil does not manage to get another goal to tie the game. And Uruguay wins. As the game ends, the fans stream out of the stadium and back onto the streets of Rio.
Fernando Duarte [00:09:41] It’s almost like some kind of apocalypse happening; people just went somewhere else. There was this feeling of solitude–this feeling of numbness. And Rio de Janeiro wasn’t a party city on the night of July 16th, 1950.
David Goldblatt [00:09:58] There was a lot of public crying. There’s a lot of hyperbole.
Joe Sykes [00:10:02] One Brazilian playwright calls the defeat “Brazil’s Hiroshima.”
Roman Mars [00:10:07] All right. Well, that’s just ridiculous.
David Goldblatt [00:10:08] Which I think is both in bad taste and an exaggeration. But people were really blown away.
Joe Sykes [00:10:17] The recriminations came thick and fast. And soon racist accusations started to fly. Barbosa, the guy who played goalkeeper for the Brazilians, was Black. He and two other Black players on the team were scapegoated in the popular press. And Barbosa was even hassled on the street.
David Goldblatt [00:10:35] His life was made difficult. There’s a tragic story he tells later in life of hearing a woman whispering to her child, “This is the man who made all of Brazil cry.”
Joe Sykes [00:10:47] After that, the Brazilian team didn’t pick another Black goalkeeper to start in the World Cup for over 50 years. And this wasn’t a coincidence. After that game, Black goalkeepers were regarded as less reliable than white ones in Brazil.
Roman Mars [00:11:02] Which is disgusting. But Barbosa wasn’t the only focus of Brazilian blame. In fact, everything about Brazilian soccer was scrutinized–down to the uniforms the players were wearing.
Fernando Duarte [00:11:14] The authorities felt that the white shirt was cursed. And I think everybody else in Brazil did.
David Goldblatt [00:11:18] And above all, there was a determination never to play in white shirts again.
Roman Mars [00:11:23] It was pretty unusual for a team to completely transform their uniform. Most countries have played in the same colors since the first World Cup back in the early 20th century, but the Brazilians decided their uniform was a problem. So, in 1953, the Brazilian soccer authorities set up a competition and advertised it in a national newspaper that’s distributed all over Brazil. They wanted people to write in with their designs for a new uniform.
Joe Sykes [00:11:48] The contest had only one stipulation. The color of the uniform had to include all the colors of the Brazilian flag.
Roman Mars [00:11:56] Green, blue, white, and yellow–a design that would truly represent Brazil.
Joe Sykes [00:12:01] Hundreds of people entered the contest, including this guy.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:12:08] My name is Aldyr Garcia Schlee. And I’m from Jaguarão, on the border with Uruguay.
Joe Sykes [00:12:18] Aldyr Garcia Schlee. He was just 19 when he entered the competition. A young man who had grown up in a little town right on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, Schlee wasn’t a designer. He was working at a local newspaper as an illustrator. He says, “When he first heard about the competition, he thought it’d be too difficult.”
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:12:41] Yeah. The first impression I had was that this was foolish. That was ridiculous because it’s rare to have a team with four colors.
Roman Mars [00:12:51] Working four colors into just the shirt would have been hard. But eventually, Schlee realized he could use the whole uniform to spread out the colors.
Joe Sykes [00:12:59] He tried blue shorts with a green shirt, a yellow and green striped shirt with white shorts, a green and yellow striped shirt with blue shorts. He came up with over 200 different designs until eventually he had it.
Roman Mars [00:13:15] Blue shorts, white socks, and a yellow shirt with green trim around the neck and the sleeves. He sent the design off, and a few weeks later, he looked down at the newspaper and saw his design staring back at him. He had won.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:13:33] After, there was just a party. My feet didn’t touch the ground, and I was celebrating in the newsroom where I worked. It was like something impossible had just happened.
Joe Sykes [00:13:47] After he won, Schlee got to bask in the glory of it all for a while. He went to Rio, did an internship with the newspaper that had sponsored the contest. He even lived with the Brazilian players for a few months. But eventually he returned to his small town and kind of forgot about the shirt for a while. But pretty soon the shirt was Brazil. In 1962, the Brazilians won the World Cup in Chile. And they were wearing Schlee’s uniform.
Roman Mars [00:14:15] Players like Pele wore the yellow shirt and dazzled the world with their extraordinary skill and beauty. Then color TV comes along, and the whole world can watch Brazil in brand new Technicolor–like in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
David Goldblatt [00:14:29] I was, you know, five when the 1970 World Cup was played. And I saw Brazil win the ’70 World Cup in shimmering yellow shirts.
Joe Sykes [00:14:37] Here’s soccer historian David Goldblatt again.
David Goldblatt [00:14:40] For me, you know, there’s a memory that I think lots of people have–even if they didn’t see it–of dazzle, of brilliance, of amazing sort of global South sunshine, of flair.
Joe Sykes [00:14:59] Where Brazil had failed in 1950, the following years saw success after success. They won World Cup after World Cup, their yellow shirts becoming as much a hallmark as their intricate footwork and dazzling play. Schlee’s design became iconic–a symbol of Brazil, full of sun and life.
Roman Mars [00:15:21] But for Schlee, life wasn’t quite living up to the image of Brazil he had created. He started working as a writer–an academic–and in 1964, a brutal U.S. backed military dictatorship took power in a coup.
Newscaster #1 [00:15:35] Anti-Goulart demonstrations that greeted the now-deposed Brazilian president at Miami Airport…
Joe Sykes [00:15:40] The new military government cracked down on people it considered to be subversive, including academics. Like a lot of other professors and students, Schlee was arrested for basically being on the political left. When he got out of jail, he was expelled from his teaching job and was banned from leaving the country.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:16:01] Yeah, I was traumatized. My wife and my children–we suffered a lot.
Roman Mars [00:16:10] The dictatorship lasted for about 20 years. But despite the difficulties of living under the watchful eye of the military police, Schlee became a successful writer, and he developed an academic specialty.
Joe Sykes [00:16:22] Schlee spent his life writing about the border between Brazil and Uruguay.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:16:28] I am a citizen who has a heart and a body divided between Brazil and Uruguay.
Joe Sykes [00:16:36] Schlee was technically born in Brazil but less than a mile from the border with Uruguay. In fact, when he was a kid, his father helped build a bridge across the river that separates Uruguay from Brazil.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:16:50] I am from the era when the bridge was built. My father went to help build the bridge. So, I’ve always been very connected to Uruguay.
Joe Sykes [00:17:02] Schlee’s experience growing up between two countries, and his experiences under military rule, have helped shape his feelings about Brazilian nationalism. Even though he designed a shirt that could be considered more patriotic than the Brazilian flag, he’s actually very wary of patriotism.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:17:23] It is an idea that competes with the ones that I had to live without limits and live without borders.
Roman Mars [00:17:33] Schlee may not be a Brazilian patriot, but the soccer fan in him can’t help but be proud of the Brazilian team.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:17:41] Brazil won the championship five times. This is a source of pride. It’s an honor for all of us.
Roman Mars [00:17:51] But Schlee has a secret, or at least something he never used to share with people who knew he was the designer of the famous yellow shirt.
Joe Sykes [00:17:59] Schlee roots for Uruguay. For many in Brazil, this is blasphemy–but not for him.
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:18:07] We are one people–one border community. Even if you have two languages, the people have only one culture identity.
Roman Mars [00:18:17] Schlee feels culturally connected to both Brazil and Uruguay. But he ultimately had to pick one country’s team to root for
Aldyr Garcia Schlee [00:18:29] Soccer divides me, too.
Joe Sykes [00:18:32] So these days, when Brazil plays Uruguay, Schlee–like a lot of other soccer fans–suits up in his favorite jersey. But not the yellow shirt he designed–a sky blue one, the color of Uruguay. Then he crosses the border from Brazil to Uruguay and finds some quiet bar to watch the game.
Roman Mars [00:19:00] After a break, we get a critical update from Emmett about the roller coaster the yellow jersey has been on it since we first aired that story. People are depending on you, which is why you need life insurance. And life insurance is one of those things that just gets more expensive as you get older. So, the time to get it is now. Policygenius was built to modernize the life insurance industry. With their technology, you can easily compare life insurance quotes from top companies like AIG and Prudential in just a few clicks to find your lowest price. With Policygenius, you can find life insurance policies that start at just $17 per month for $500,000 worth of coverage. Policygenius’ licensed agents can help you find options that offer coverage in as little as a week and avoid unnecessary medical exams. They’re not incentivized to recommend one insurer over another, so you can trust their guidance. There are no added fees, and your personal info is private. Your loved ones deserve a financial safety net. You deserve a smarter way to find and buy it. Head to policgygenius.com or click the link in the description to get your free life insurance quotes and see how much you can save. That’s policygenius.com. This is Roman Mars, on location. I’m literally in a Whole Foods recording a Whole Foods ad because I am here every single week. And they have a wide variety of groceries–from the 365 by Whole Foods Market, which is stuff at wallet happy prices, to, like, the good bread. You know what I’m talking about? I’m, like, addicted to bread, and I love to eat bread. I can eat just a baguette for a meal. And they got the good crusty bread here, which you can’t go wrong with that. Plus, if you’re looking for a quick and satisfying lunch or dinner, they have the hot bar, which gets you all kinds of stuff that you can just pour into a big box and pay for it. And that’s dinner right there. Solid. Taken care of. That and a salad bar. It has everything you need Tonight, for example, I’m picking out a roast chicken–a chicken that they roast–that I’m just going to bring home and then a bunch of broccoli that I’m going to chop up and roast for myself in the oven. And then right there–perfect meal. Handled. Done. The one thing they don’t have is the diet soda that I’m addicted to. But I think that is because they love me and they don’t want me to die. Jump-start your day, jump-start your week, jump-start your year at Whole Foods Market. This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. When you’re at your best, you can do great things. But sometimes life gets you bogged down, and you may feel overwhelmed or like you’re just not showing up the way you want to. Working with therapists can help you get closer to the best version of you. And when you feel empowered, you’re more prepared to take on everything life throws at you. Some people respond to negative talk and negative feelings, and it makes them pick themselves up by their bootstraps. I am not one of those people. I need to feel good if I want to exercise, get up early, or make dinner. You know, like, I need positive reinforcement and support to be my best self. If you’re thinking of giving therapy a try, BetterHelp is a great option. It’s convenient, flexible, affordable, and entirely online. Just fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist. And switch therapists any time for no additional charge. If you want to live a more empowered life, therapy can get you there. Visit betterhelp.com/invisible today to get 10% off your first month. That’s betterhelp.com/invisible. Many of today’s occupations didn’t really exist a decade ago. Driverless car engineers, cryptocurrency analysts, podcasters–if I’m being honest. From Etsy seller to emoji translator, new opportunities to build a career are popping up every day. And Squarespace is the ultimate tool for professionals to build a site to market their brand and sell anything. Features like Squarespace Analytics allow you to use insights to grow your business. The appointment scheduling feature allows you to add online booking and scheduling to your Squarespace website. With the video studio app feature, you can create and share Pro-Level videos. Squarespace even offers a member area feature, where you can sell access to gated content, like videos, online courses, or newsletters. All the modern tools you need for the new jobs of today. Head to squarespace.com/invisible for a free trial, and when you’re ready to launch, use the offer code “invisible” to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. Okay. So, I’m here with producer Emmett FitzGerald, who is going to give us an update on the state of the Brazilian soccer jersey and what’s happened since 2017.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:23:39] Yeah, a lot has happened to the Brazil soccer jersey since we first aired that episode.
Roman Mars [00:23:45] It was really interesting to me, listening back to the story, that the designer of the Jersey–Schlee–was someone who was really wary of nationalism, especially given what has just happened in Brazil on January 8th.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:23:58] Yeah, and just to recap, on January 8th, thousands of far-right nationalists descended on the capital city of Brasilia to protest the inauguration of Lula, Brazil’s new president.
Newscaster #2 [00:24:09] Chaos in Brazil as thousands stormed the country’s capital, protesting October’s election results.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:24:17] The mob attacked Congress, the Supreme Court, and the palace of the president.
Roman Mars [00:24:22] And it all just felt really eerily similar to what happened two years ago in the United States on January 6th. Like, a full-on insurrection by right wing extremists questioning the results of the legitimate presidential election.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:24:35] Yeah, totally. It felt disturbingly familiar from an American perspective. But if you look at videos or images from the Brazilian insurrection, you can’t help but notice what the rioters are wearing.
Newscaster #3 [00:24:49] The rioters–many dressed in green and yellow, the colors of the Brazilian flag–smashed windows, ransacked offices, even set fire to a carpet inside.
Roman Mars [00:25:01] Yes, so many of them are wearing the yellow jersey of the national soccer team. It isn’t just the colors of the flag–it’s the actual soccer team jersey. And I mean, watching these videos, it feels like the jersey has fully become a symbol of the far right, which is a pretty different situation from what we described in the original piece.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:25:18] Yeah. So, in the episode that we just played, you heard from Brazilian soccer journalist Fernando Duarte. And Fernando describes the Brazilian soccer jersey as this great unifier. For better or worse, it was the symbol of this beautiful game that united what had long been a deeply unequal and divided country.
Roman Mars [00:25:36] So what happened to the shirt? Like, how did it get from there to here?
Emmett FitzGerald [00:25:40] Well, I think we’ve got to start with the 2018 presidential election.
Fernando Duarte [00:25:44] Right. What happened after the 2018 presidential election is that one side of the political spectrum claimed the shirt.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:25:52] This is Fernando Duarte again. And he says that after that election, the far right really latched on to the shirt as their own political symbol.
Fernando Duarte [00:26:01] It became a symbol of whoever supported the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
CNN Newscaster [00:26:07] He’s known as “Brazil’s Donald Trump,” an anti-establishment politician who promises to drain the swamp and crack down on crime.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:26:16] This is CNN coverage from election night in 2018, when Jair Bolsonaro was elected. And if you look in videos of crowds on that election night, you’ll see a lot of Brazilian flags, and you will see a lot of people wearing the colors of the Brazilian flag, yellow and green.
Fernando Duarte [00:26:33] Wearing national symbols, national colors–yellow and green–became something of a badge of identification of the president’s supporters. And obviously what is more yellow and green–what is more representative of Brazil as a nation–than the national team shirt?
Emmett FitzGerald [00:26:53] Now, I want to be really clear that the roots of this connection between the Jersey and the far right go back before Bolsonaro. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, the military dictatorship in Brazil used the success of the national team wearing those yellow jerseys on the pitch to cultivate a sense of nationalism and support for the regime. And even more recently, the far right adopted the yellow and green during the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. But when Bolsonaro gets into power, this whole thing really escalates, in part because he starts to wear the jersey himself.
Fernando Duarte [00:27:26] Intentionally. It wasn’t an accident. The president intentionally simulated wearing the national team shirt as a sign of true patriotism–of true love to the nation. And obviously, love to the nation–in the small print–was basically support for his agenda.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:27:44] And as you can imagine, this created a real dilemma for a lot of soccer fans in Brazil, who were used to wearing that jersey.
Júlia Belas Trindade [00:27:52] I always joke that I look great in yellow as well, so it was always something that I enjoyed doing.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:27:58] This is Júlia Belas Trindade. She’s a sports journalist from Brazil who’s currently getting a Ph.D. in the U.K. She says that growing up, she always wore the yellow shirt, especially during World Cups. But she stopped during the Bolsonaro presidency because she didn’t want to send the wrong signals.
Júlia Belas Trindade [00:28:16] For me, it was kind of, “Okay, I don’t want to be seen as something that I’m not. I don’t want to be seen as a bolsonarista.”
Roman Mars [00:28:24] I mean, not to take the Trump analogy too much further, but it feels kind of like the red hat thing. Like, there’s a piece of clothing that–for all intents and purposes–it’s pretty neutral. It immediately became an identifier of your political beliefs.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:28:38] Yeah, I think it is a lot like that–except, you know, instead of a sort of random piece of clothing, like a red hat, it’s, like, the most famous and beloved piece of clothing in the country.
Roman Mars [00:28:49] Totally.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:28:50] You know, I think for the past four years, for a lot of Brazilians, it’s felt as though this famous yellow jersey has been symbolically hijacked by the far right. But there were two events this past year that really started to turn things around. And the first was that Bolsonaro lost the presidential election to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva–better known as just Lula. He was the former president of Brazil and a champion of the Brazilian left, the Brazilian labor movement. And when he wins, Lula immediately makes a point of trying to reclaim the jersey.
Júlia Belas Trindade [00:29:23] He posted a lot of pictures wearing the jersey after the election. Whenever Brazil would play, he would post pictures of him wearing the jersey.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:29:34] Just after the election, Lula was quoted saying, “We can’t be ashamed of wearing our green and yellow shirt. It doesn’t belong to one particular candidate. It doesn’t belong to one particular party. Green and yellow are the colors of 213 million citizens who love this country.”
Roman Mars [00:29:49] So this reclamation is overt. It isn’t subtle at all. He’s really speaking to the issue.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:29:55] Yeah, it was this really intentional effort to sort of neutralize the jersey–to make it for everyone again. And it was all happening in advance of event number two, which is the World Cup.
Roman Mars [00:30:07] Right. So, we just had the World Cup. Congrats to our Argentinean colleague Martín, who was very invested in the series.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:30:14] Yes. Congrats, Martín. And you know, Argentina’s great rivals, Brazil, ended up bowing out pretty early with a disappointing loss to Croatia. But in the early stages of the tournament, they really were performing very well. And going into the tournament, a lot of people on the left had kind of abandoned the national team in part because of the associations with the jersey–but also because a lot of the players were big Bolsonaro supporters, particularly the star Neymar. But during those early games, President elect Lula was very publicly watching and cheering the team on.
Júlia Belas Trindade [00:31:00] He was celebrating, he was posting videos of watching the game, celebrating the goals, always with the jersey. Even if the people who were watching with him were wearing suits and, you know, politicians, he always feels like he has to show he is a man of the people. And a man of the people in Brazil watches football and supports the national team.
Roman Mars [00:31:21] Right. You can’t be a man of the people in Brazil and not support the national team. So how well did this work, this sort of intentional reclamation? Did the Brazilian soccer fans start embracing the jersey again without, you know, necessarily signaling their political leanings?
Emmett FitzGerald [00:31:37] Yeah, I think for a while there was a feeling like it was working. You know, the timing of Lula’s election with Brazil’s play at the World Cup–it gave this feeling of a sort of symbolic reset. During those early games when Brazil was destroying teams like South Korea and, you know, doing their samba dances after every goal in the yellow jersey, I think a lot of people got excited and felt sort of like things were back to normal–including Fernando.
Fernando Duarte [00:32:06] The Korea game–I was watching–I got so excited I bought a new shirt.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:32:12] You did?
Fernando Duarte [00:32:13] Yeah. I don’t know. I just got really excited. I said, “Well, maybe it’s time to buy a shirt again. Maybe when I go running, I’m going to wear it again.” As a football fan, I was really, really, really enchanted by the brand of football that they played. And it’s the shirt of my country. I think I’m entitled to wear it as a Brazilian.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:32:33] So this interview that I did with Fernando happened while the World Cup was still going on. And I think at that point he and a lot of people were feeling cautiously optimistic about the team, about the country, about the jersey. It felt like for the first time in a while, he could maybe wear a yellow jersey out in the world, when he goes for his run, and not feel like that was going to identify him as a Bolsonaro supporter. And, you know, that was kind of the note that we were originally going to end this update on.
Roman Mars [00:33:04] Yeah. Yeah. And then, you know, right around that time we were wrapping up this, the January 8th riots happened.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:33:11] Right. And obviously, that’s a huge story that is way more important than the story of the jersey. And there’s so many different angles that we’re not going to get into. But for the purposes of this episode, I wanted to call Fernando back just to sort of check in with him and see how he was feeling about the jersey and about everything that was going on.
Fernando Duarte [00:33:28] Well, what a difference a couple of weeks make, right? We thought that after the World Cup there would be some peace and reconciliation. But no. I think the situation is actually worse now than it was before the World Cup.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:33:43] Fernando says that he certainly is not going to be wearing that new yellow jersey that he bought anytime soon. You know, it’s going back in the closet.
Fernando Duarte [00:33:54] You know, I think a lot of people will refrain from being seen in any yellow shirt because of what happened.
Roman Mars [00:34:01] Yeah, I guess that makes sense.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:34:03] I asked Fernando what he thought was going to happen next with the jersey. And I mean, I honestly was pretty surprised by his answer. First of all, he doesn’t know; he has no idea what’s going to happen. But he says it’s conceivable that the country could abandon the yellow jersey.
Fernando Duarte [00:34:22] Maybe this is the point where we depart from the yellow one. I think it’s difficult to say now, “Oh, yes, definitely. Something’s going to change.” But clearly something has to happen in regards to this association with the far right.
Roman Mars [00:34:38] Whoa. I mean, is that something that you think could actually happen?
Emmett FitzGerald [00:34:42] Well, I mean, even before the World Cup, there was some talk of turning away from the yellow jersey from people on the left, who felt that it was just too far gone as a symbol. That movement always felt like a long shot. But now, after January 8th, Fernando is not so sure.
Fernando Duarte [00:34:58] It’s not totally ridiculous to think that they might change the color of the shirt. There are rumors in Brazil that the Brazilian Football Confederation and Nike are to discuss what to do because clearly the product’s tarnished, right? Imagine if you’re Nike, you’re paying gazillions of dollars for the right to produce something that now has got a bad reputation.
Roman Mars [00:35:26] Or a bad reputation for some. It’s really fascinating. I mean, if they were to move away from the yellow jersey, isn’t that just kind of, like, letting one side win this debate? It just feels like a sad outcome.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:35:40] Yeah. Yeah. I get that; I feel kind of similarly, I think. And I think Fernando feels that way, too. Honestly, he seemed pretty unsure of what he thinks should happen next. And I get it. I mean, I think if you’re a Brazilian soccer fan who doesn’t support Bolsonaro or certainly doesn’t support the insurrection, I don’t know if there’s a great solution here.
Roman Mars [00:36:05] So if they were to change the jersey, what do you think they would change it to?
Emmett FitzGerald [00:36:09] Well, there are a few options. Brazil has an alternate blue kit that they’ve been wearing for years. It looks pretty nice. And then they could always go back to white.
Fernando Duarte [00:36:19] You know what? White is the color of peace. And it’s a New Year tradition in Brazil to wear white underwear or white gloves if you want peace in the new year. So maybe this is a way to kind of wish for something different.
Roman Mars [00:36:38] Wow. That would really bring it all full circle.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:36:41] Yeah. I don’t know how likely that is, given the history. I mean, if I had to say, I think the most likely outcome is probably that the yellow jersey continues, and people just keep fighting about what it means. But there’s really no doubt that real damage has been done to the jersey as this symbol of Brazilian unity.
Fernando Duarte [00:37:06] You have to watch this space. But clearly something happened. And, you know, the perception of that shirt worldwide has been tarnished somehow. That is undeniable.
Roman Mars [00:37:22] Well, thank you for that update, Emmett. And it’s been really fascinating to hear from Fernando again and all the people that are affected by this. So, I appreciate it.
Emmett FitzGerald [00:37:29] Yeah. Thank you, Roman.
Roman Mars [00:37:38] 99% Invisible was produced by Joe Sykes and Emmett FitzGerald. Mixed by Sharif Youssef and Martin Gonzalez. Music by Swan Real and Melodium. English voiceover by Ney Araujo. We’d like to thank Alex Bellos for his help. Alex was the first English journalist to write about this story and helped point us in the right direction. Junior Maiza and Fabio Aranalde also fixed everything up in Brazil and translated our interview with Schlee The rest of the 99PI team includes Senior Editor Delaney Hall, Digital Director Kurt Kohlstedt, Vivian Le, Christopher Johnson, Chris Berube, Lasha Madan, Jayson De Leon, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg. We’re on Instagram and Reddit, and now… TikTok! Our first TikTok video story, produced by the insanely talented Talon Stradley, premiered today. Please check it out. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99pi at 99pi.org.