cover image 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

Rob Ruck. New Press, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-6209-7337-0

Sports historian Ruck examines how elite football players from American Samoa became the “most disproportionately overrepresented demographic in the NFL and division I college football.” A “fiercely competitive culture,” according to Ruck, made the Samoan athlete a prime candidate to play for the NFL. He traces this story back to the post-WWII era, when the Navy’s departure from the territory ended a period of prosperity and inspired thousands of Samoans to migrate to the continental U.S. and Hawaii in search of jobs. More recent NFL stars such as Troy Polamalu, the late Junior Seau, and Marcus Mariota stand on the shoulders of exceptional forerunners, such as the pioneer Al Lolotai (a defenseman for the Washington Redskins in 1945) and Charlie Ane (who played for the Kansas City Chiefs, 1975–1980). Throughout, Ruck touches on the health problems many of these athletes faced while living and playing football in the U.S., such as obesity and diabetes (caused by a rich American diet) and dementia (All-Pro Seau committed suicide in 2012 after living with severe brain damage). But football is still a big part of life for Samoans, especially among those living in Hawaii, where scouts scour the high school teams and college squads for prospects. Ruck’s clear-eyed observations of the Samoan contribution to the NFL make for a welcome addition to the football library. (July)