Available July 2018

The Tropic of Football

The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans to the NFL

Reviews & Interviews Public Appearances

Reviews & Interviews

Dave Zirin, who offers the most persuasive radical critique of sports, did the interview linked below for his Edge of Sports site and the Nation.


Sometimes, people don't realize how important their work is until somebody points it out to them.  This piece is about Florence Wasko, the sole athletic trainer in American Samoa.  Her work could hardly be more important.


Dana Jacobson did a podcast for CBS This Sunday: Football and Samoa: The Perfect Match. Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/cbsthismorning/football-and-samoa-the-perfect-match

For full review, click here

Newsday: "Everything that’s rousing and distressing about block-and-tackle football is encompassed in “Tropic of Football,” Rob Ruck’s illuminating chronicle of the Samoan presence in the American mainland’s most dominant sport. It’s inspiring, on the one hand, how passion for the game among young men growing up in the South Pacific territory of American Samoa is distilled into individual discipline and collective triumph. But it’s also disquieting to come across stories of persistent economic and personal hardships in the region as well as concerns about players’ health and safety that threaten the game’s long-term future…. In short, what’s happening to football in Samoa mirrors what’s happening to football in America. “Tropic of Football” reminds us that the best sports books take up far bigger subjects than final scores."
—Newsday July 18, 2018

For full review, click here

“Rob Ruck has connected beautifully how I as a Samoan and a Polynesian football player in college and the NFL represented my culture. God and family are first, respect and humility are how you represent your people and your culture. The new millennials through today’s culture of social media have lost that foundation of our identity. This is a great read for them.”

—Jesse Sapolu, San Francisco 49ers, winner of four Super Bowl rings, and co-founder of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame

“On the night of January 9, 2018, an Alabama freshman named Tua Tagovailoa stunned America by coolly firing perhaps the most perfect pass in college football history. While everyone wondered, ‘Where did he come from?,’ only Rob Ruck had the full answer—and here it is. In this immersive, deeply reported odyssey, Ruck unveils the dynamics powering football’s most dedicated and mysterious cadre, and in the process makes us grapple with a far deeper question. Yes, Samoan islanders have carved out an outsized place in the ultimate American game. But at what cost?”

—S.L. Price, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of Playing Through the Whistle

“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

Tropic of Football is a beautifully crafted and thoughtful book that tells the fascinating and often poignant story of football’s role and impact in American Samoa. It is essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of football, collective identity, and ‘the way of Samoa.”

—David K. Wiggins, author of Glory Bound

“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

“Rob Ruck masterfully tells the story of how so many Samoans came to play a significant role in American football. Ruck, by far the best qualified scholar to tell the story of Samoan-American struggles and successes, is a masterful story-teller who draws us into his work. ”

—Professor John Nauright, University of North Texas; author of Long Run to Freedom: Sport, Cultures and Identities in South Africa

“Deftly weaving together strands of history, religion, with colonialism, Ruck shows us how Samoans used football to build a transnational brand, while fending off the discontents of 21st century global currents. The NFL may be where we see Samoan excellence, but Rob Ruck shows us the DNA that makes for their dominance: family, warrior toughness, a local sporting system built on excellence, and a work ethic to beat the band. In Rob Ruck’s examination of Samoan football, we see a master historian at work- not romanticizing, or essentializing sporting excellence.”

—Alan Klein

“Rob Ruck has another winner, but this one takes us on one of the most interesting journeys. Tropic of Football is a written documentary of how American Samao has developed into such an important asset to college football and the NFL. Thanks to Rob’s always thorough research, he details the development of families who have given us late Hall of Famer Junior Seau, future Hall of Famer Troy Polamaula and great players such as Marcus Mariota and others. The hard work and struggles are so well detailed.”

—John Clayton, Senior Writer, ESPN.COM

“A fascinating investigation into the role of football in American Samoan culture and the role of Samoans in American football.” More:


“Best summer books 2018” 


More Books by Rob Ruck

  • Tropic of Football book cover
  • Raceball book cover
  • Rooney book cover
  • Tropic of Baseball book cover
  • Sandlot book cover
  • Nelson book cover

Films by Rob Ruck