Available July 2018

The Tropic of Football

The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans to the NFL

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Football is at a crossroads, its future imperiled by the very physicality that drives its popularity. The game’s grass roots—high school and youth programs—are withering. But players from the small, South Pacific, American territory of Samoa and their brothers in the diaspora to Hawai`i and the mainland are bucking that trend, quietly becoming the most disproportionately overrepresented culture in the sport.

Football has become the means by which Samoans shout their story to the world. Images of a stoic Jesse Sapolu, a raging Junior Seau, and a free-spirited Troy Polamalu broadcast a Samoan presence well beyond the islands. They exemplify a sporting culture defined by competitiveness and physicality, by allegiance to family and team, and most of all, by commitment to fa’a Samoa, the way of Samoa.

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. That story plays out in Kahuku on O`ahu’s North Shore, at Punahou and the St. Louis School in Honolulu, and at Oceanside, El Camino, Long Beach Poly, and elsewhere in California. But life on the heartbreakingly beautiful Samoan islands and in Samoan American communities is haunted by Junior Seau, who committed suicide after a vaunted NFL career, unable to live with the demons that resulted from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

In 2011, I had just finished two projects and found myself adrift. Having a book to work on is like running for me. I don’t feel right when it’s not there as a daily companion. I also needed to get out of my comfort zone. That led me to American Samoa, the anchor of a transnational people who use sport to tell a story about who they are. They have become, along with their Polynesian brothers, the new face of football.

Tropic of Football book cover

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Early Praise for The Tropic of Football

“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

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