Available July 2018
Tropic of Football unravels American Samoa’s complex ties with the United States. It explores an island, where boys train on fields blistered with volcanic pebbles, wearing helmets that should have been discarded long ago and moves from the Samoan archipelago to Samoan outposts in Hawai`i and California where holding on to fa`a Samoa is an existential challenge.
For baseball, no moment was more transformative than Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the major leagues in 1947. Since then, African Americans and Latinos have reshaped major league baseball. They’ve provided the game with its most iconic figures, won a disproportionate number of individual honors, and been at the core of almost every championship team since 1947. Integration allowed major league baseball to enter its golden age as African Americans and Latinos injected new talent after Jackie Robinson jumped the color line.
I’ve come to think of sport—at its best—as the republic of play, offering a vision of society in which fairness prevails—an ethical, transparent arena where performance matters the most and people validate their worth by the strength and acumen of their opponents. It prizes fair play, celebrates the body and the mind, and tests our ability to overcome challenges. At its best, sport creates social capital because being a part of a team in which you have each other’s back and compete with a common purpose is one of life’s treasures.
But just as the early American republic embraced slavery and exclusion alongside national liberation and notions of freedom, the republic of play can be a mean and vicious place—where youth become vulnerable commodities on a global supply chain; the athletes we applaud are traumatized, and sport used to promote anger and misogyny, bringing out the worst—not the best—in us.
“This book floored me. Rob Ruck helps us understand a part of football history that has been ignored for too long. No one understands like Ruck the intersection between the history of U.S. empire and the way it has shaped the sports we consume. He did it with baseball, now he does it with what has become the true American pastime.”
—Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation and author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States, Bad Sports, and Game Over