Brazil soccer star is true to convictions

He demands the best of himself on the field of competition and living the gospel

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Soccer star Tita is nationally known and considered one of the best players in the history of Brazil.

But off the field, he is known as Milton Queiroz da Paixao, first counselor in the bishopric of the Barra da Tijuca Ward, Rio de Janeiro Jacarepagua Stake, a man who has kept his standards despite the accolades and pressures of fame and fortune.

He and his wife, Sandra, are the parents of four children, Desiree, 19, Lohram, 17, Ablanche, 15, and Fabien, 7.

Although during his career his schedule was always very busy, Brother Paixao said that the Church accompanied him throughout his life. His mother, Walstir, helped him comprehend those priorities that were most important.

"I passed all that I heard in Church on to him," said Sister Queiroz. "I would select discourses from the Liahona and ask him to read them while he was away with the team. He was always disciplined and read the discourses, as well as the Book of Mormon, daily," she said.

At 70, she becomes emotional when speaking of her son's career and remembers that she often asked Heavenly Father to protect him and to not allow him to become estranged from the Church.

"When Tita began to earn a lot of money I became quite worried, for he was only a teenager. In spite of this, he always paid his tithing and offerings from all that he earned. From every contract, from every prize, he brought me an envelope and said, 'Mother, here is our tithing,' " she said with tears in her eyes.

Tita was born in 1958 in the state of Rio de Janeiro. He was baptized when he was 11 , the same year that he began to play soccer in the infancy of a great team. His family became acquainted with the restored gospel through an uncle who had joined the Church in Sao Paulo.

"My mother came from a Methodist family and when my uncle spoke about the Church, she was touched by his knowledge of the pre-mortal existence and life after death. We received the missionaries at home and my mother, Walstir, I, my brother Mardson and my sister Walstir were baptized.

"I was blessed with a strong testimony of the gospel in my youth and this made me very concerned about my spiritual life. The principles that the Church taught me of honesty, loyalty, valor, virtue. . . all this was integral in my career," he said.

His career in the sport was marked by great accomplishments from the beginning. Between ages 11 and 17 he won many amateur soccer titles, traveling all around Brazil and many countries in Europe.

He became a professional player at age 18, signing a contract with Flamengo, the most popular team in Brazil at the time. At the age of 20 he was named Brazil's Soccer Selection (Selecao Brasileira de Futebol), the equivalent of the national MVP, realizing the greatest dream of every player. He played for the World Cup in 1990.

His success in the sport made Tita very well-known and widely admired. Interviews and autographs in the streets became part of his routine.

His career in the sport gave him the opportunity to play with many of the greatest soccer players in the world. As a child, Tita was introduced to Pele — considered the greatest soccer player of all time — who wanted to play the game with the young boy already showing signs of a great player.

Even with his new-found fame, however, Tita's public activities were always in harmony with his commitment to the Church.

"I always had many friends in soccer, even though our habits were very different," Brother Paixao said. "In the beginning there was a lot of joking and sarcasm regarding the activities that I would participate in with my teammates and those that I would not. For example, for the fact that I never went out with the players to consume alcoholic beverages and for my obedience to the law of chastity, I was a little bit persecuted in the beginning, but later I became very respected and even sought out by my teammates to counsel them when they encountered difficult situations."

One time, after having been hired by Pescara, one of the great Italian teams, he needed to attend a welcoming ceremony. The president of the club invited the press, local authorities and fans to receive the Brazilian sports star. At the end, the president decided to make a toast with champagne. In front of the eyes and lenses of the press, Tita said, "Mr. President, I thank you for the beautiful reception, but I don't consume alcoholic beverages." The president replied saying, "But it is only a little to commemorate."

"I then told him that I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that I could not drink that champagne, even though it was such a small amount. The situation was a little uncomfortable, but in the end I felt at peace for having done what I knew to be right."

He credits his long career as a player to obedience to the commandments. "I have a strong testimony of the blessings that come from the Word of Wisdom," he said. "The career of a professional soccer player averages 10 to 12 years. I played professionally for 21 years — from age 18 until I was 39 years old. I am absolutely certain that my time in soccer was almost doubled due to obedience to the Word of Wisdom," he said.

Recently, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Estadio do Maracana, the largest soccer stadium in the world, he was inaugurated into the Walk of Fame, with the most notable soccer players in Brazilian history. Brother Paixao, alongside players such as Pele, was invited to leave his footprints on the Walk of Fame, an honor that elevates him as one of the greatest stars of the sport in Brazil.

After his stellar career as a player, he is now beginning a career as a soccer coach. He returned from a 10-month season in Japan where he was coach of the Urawa Reds, the most popular Japanese soccer team, and is now the coach of Bangu, a team from Rio de Janeiro. He is one of the youngest coaches in Brazilian soccer, but with broad experience on the fields of the world.

Speaking of the joys and victories of his career, Brother Paixao remembers that nothing happens without effort and sacrifice.

"Even with all the luxuries that society offers to a public person, I never permitted them to distract me from my responsibilities to my Heavenly Father and to the Church," he said. "In this way, I was very blessed in my life as a soccer player, but principally, I have been very happy in my life in the Church and with my family."