Tropic of Football: The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans to the NFL

Tropic of Football: The Long and Perilous Journey of Samoans to the NFL

by Rob Ruck


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Longlisted for the PEN/ESPN Award

“Everything that’s rousing and distressing about block-and-tackle football is encompassed in Tropic of Football. . . illuminating.”

How a tiny Pacific archipelago is producing more players—from Troy Polamalu to Marcus Mariota—for the NFL than anywhere else in the world, by an award-winning sports historian

Football is at a crossroads, its future imperiled by the very physicality that drives its popularity. Its grass roots—high school and youth travel program—are withering. But players from the small South Pacific American territory of Samoa are bucking that trend, quietly becoming the most disproportionately overrepresented culture in the sport.

Jesse Sapolu, Junior Seau, Troy Polamalu, and Marcus Mariota are among the star players to emerge from the Samoan islands, and more of their brethren suit up every season. The very thing that makes them so good at football—their extraordinary internalization of discipline and warrior self-image—makes them especially vulnerable to its pitfalls, including concussions and brain injuries.

Award-winning sports historian Rob Ruck travels to the South Seas to unravel American Samoa's complex ties with the United States. He finds an island blighted by obesity, where boys train on fields blistered with volcanic pebbles wearing helmets that should have been discarded long ago, incurring far more neurological damage than their stateside counterparts and haunted by Junior Seau, who committed suicide after a vaunted twenty-year NFL career, unable to live with the demons that resulted from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Tropic of Football is a gripping, bittersweet history of what may be football's last frontier.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620973370
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 07/31/2018
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Rob Ruck is a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. His documentaries includes The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Salon, and other publications. He lives in Pittsburgh.

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

1 Gods Sweetest Work 15

2 The War and America Come to Samoa 34

3 Hawai'i: The North Shore 56

4 Al Lolotai, Charlie Ane, and Bob Apisa 79

5 American Samoa in the 1960s 100

6 Jesse Sapolu, Dick Tomey, and Fact Samoa 118

7 Fa'a Kalifonia: Oceanside, California 139

8 Kalifonia Dreaming 158

9 Back in Hawai'i: Where Football Still Matters 182

10 David and Goliath 216

11 The Samoan Paradox 237

Epilogue 255

Acknowledgments 263

Glossary 269

Notes 273

Index 297

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