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.
“Rob Ruck is arguably the most important sport historian of our time. His books on the African American and Latino roots of baseball have revolutionized our understanding and memory of the national game. Now he turns his brilliant gifts as historian and writer to a small Pacific island and its people, forcing us to rethink what we thought we knew about America’s most popular sport, football.”
—Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship