Soccer is the most celebrated sport throughout the world. People throughout the African diaspora have shown off their skills and inspired others with their talents on the field. Pelé, Arthur Wharton and Freddy Adu faced challenges. Yet they knew how to rise to the occasion, making them excellent soccer players:
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, also known as Pelé, is one of the most well-known athletes in the world. Born in Três Corações, Brazil in 1940, Pelé signed with the Santos professional soccer team at 15. He had a successful rookie season, leading the league in goals. His prolific talent earned him a spot on the Brazilian national team, allowing him to play for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. In the Championship match against Sweden, Pelé scored two goals and aided Brazil to a 5-2 victory. Brazil earned another World Cup championship in 1962, although Pelé sustained an injury during the tournament. He earned his third World Cup title in 1970, helping Brazil by scoring four goals throughout the tournament. The victory gave Pelé international fame and Santos toured the world to showcase his talent. The tour caused a 48-hour cease-fire during a civil war in Nigeria in 1967 so citizens could watch Pelé play an exhibition game. He also played in the U.S. with the New York Cosmos from 1975-1977. In 1999, Pelé was named the FIFA co-Player of the Century.
Wharton was born in Accra, Ghana in West Africa in 1865 and was raised in England. His athletic career began when he joined the Amateur Athletic Association and became the first Black athlete to win a AAA Championship. In 1886, Wharton set a new record by running 100 yards in 10 seconds. He was a multi-sport athlete, playing cricket and cycling; yet, he had a career in soccer. Wharton played as an amateur goalkeeper for the Darlington Club and signed with the Preston North End club. With Preston North End, he was able to play in the FA Cup semifinals. In 1889, Wharton became the first Black professional soccer player when he signed with the Ritherham Town club, a team in the Midland League. Wharton retired in 1902.
Adu and his family moved to Maryland when he was eight-years-old from Ghana in West Africa. He played in a U.S. Olympic Development Program when he was 10 and became a member of the USA U-17 soccer team at 12. He was also in a U.S. Soccer Federation residency program in the IMG Academies in Florida. At 14, Adu was selected at the first overall pick in the 2004 MLS draft by the D.C. United. Adu went overseas to play for the Benfica club in 2008. Since then, Adu has competed in Turkey, France Portugal, Brazil and other countries.