NFL player eager to see show Brazil puts on at Rio Olympics
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) Over the next few weeks, after long days of training camp on the practice fields of Missouri Western State University, Cairo Santos will return to his dorm room and hunker down in front of a TV.
He will flip the channel to the Rio Olympics and get lost in the pageantry.
You see, the only Brazilian playing in the NFL is as eager as anybody to see what kind of show his country puts on this August. The kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs knows better than most the many hurdles that have been overcome and the opportunity that Brazil has on the world stage.
''Unfortunately, Brazil has had that image of corruption for such a long time,'' Santos said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''But we are a country that has a lot of potential to be a great country, and we're a country that's fighting to be on the right track.''
The run-up to the Rio Olympics has been dominated by negative news: organized doping by Russian athletes, fears over the Zika virus, polluted water, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, venue and housing issues, a noticeable uptick in crime across the seaside city.
Many of these issues, Santos said, have been part of Brazilian life long before Rio was awarded the first Olympics in South America. It's just that now the world's attention is on the city, a glossy facade portrayed by tour operators has been pulled back to reveal a less savory underbelly.
Unemployment is a problem. So is homelessness, organized crime and other social issues.
''Security is the main concern,'' said Santos, who spent time this past offseason in Rio and Sao Paulo, where his family lives and some of the Olympic soccer matches will take place.
''I wouldn't suggest being by yourself, at night especially,'' he said. ''The Olympic villages, near Copacabana and stuff, there's Olympic sites everywhere. That's where the action is. Just being around there is the best place, where the police will be - where the crowd will be.''
Like most Brazilians, Santos grew up playing soccer. He didn't start playing football until he moved to Florida as a foreign exchange student and his high school needed a kicker, and then he played the ''Madden'' video game so he could learn the rules.
He was so good at kicking oblong balls through uprights that he earned a scholarship to Tulane.
After winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best college kicker, Santos was signed by Kansas City. The 24-year-old went to training camp in 2014 and competed against Ryan Succop, the most accurate kicker in Chiefs' history, before eventually winning the starting job.
In his first two seasons, he has made 55 of 67 field-goal attempts and missed just two extra points.
Santos's success has quickly endeared him to Kansas City fans, but it also has made him a hero in Brazil. Very few people follow the NFL, but those who manage to catch games on satellite TV generally root for the Chiefs because of their kicker.
Santos was mobbed everywhere he went during his trip home this offseason: his elementary school in Brasilia, the local TV stations where he was interviewed, his first ''Cairo Camp'' in Sao Paulo.
He even hobnobbed with Brazilian mixed martial arts star Jose Aldo.
Most of his trips took him to the glitzy areas of Brazil, but Santos knows well what the living conditions are like in the many slums - called favelas - that dot the countryside.
He wonders how much of the Olympics will touch the people struggling to make ends meet.
Those images probably won't show up when he flips on the TV at night at training camp. Instead, he will see the best of Rio - Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, the panoramic vistas.
Asked what he is most interested in, Santos gave a predictable answer: ''I'm always curious about the soccer team. They've never gotten gold. Hopefully redeem ourselves from the World Cup fiasco (where Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in the semifinals, then lost the third-place match to the Netherlands).
''But I'm also excited to see how they'll deal with having the entire world's attention on us,'' Santos said, ''and how we're going to organize such a beautiful event like that. It's a good opportunity for our country to grow and change our image.''