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


Product Details

$26.99  $25.10
New Press
Publish Date
6.4 X 1.1 X 9.4 inches | 1.35 pounds
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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.


Praise for Tropic of Football
Longlisted for the PEN/ESPN Award

Named one of the "9 football books to kick off the 2018 season" by the Christian Science Monitor

"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. . . . The stories of these pioneers and those who followed them might by themselves fascinate serious fans. But it's the context framing these lives that makes Tropic of Football more significant than most sports books. . . . 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.."

"Football fans interested in the sociocultural landscape surrounding the game will find this account informative and insightful."

"This book shines a new light on football's past and present. . . . An engaging sociological study for football fans of all levels."
--Library Journal

"Ruck's clear-eyed observations of the Samoan contribution to the NFL make for a welcome addition to the football library."
--Publishers Weekly

"A fascinating investigation into the role of football in American Samoan culture and the role of Samoans in American football. . . A penetrating probe into one of the most intriguing and misunderstood sporting stories of our time."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Rob Ruck has connected beautifully how I as a Samoan and a Polynesian football player--in college and in 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

"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 past time."
--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. Through a variety of interviews and other sources, Rob Ruck 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: Black Athletes in a White America

"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

"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

"Like football, from a distance Samoa looks like paradise. But up close both country and game are racked with problems. Football, so important to many Samoans' identity, promises riches and fame, and the islanders play it with a fierce abandon--but at great risks. Rob Ruck tells the story of the collision of football and Samoan culture beautifully and without blinking or missing the very real tragedies."
--Randy Roberts, co-author of A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle and Distinguished Professor of History, Purdue University

"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 twenty-first-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, neither romanticizing nor essentializing sporting excellence."
--Alan Klein, professor of sociology-anthropology at Northwestern University and author of Dominican Baseball and American Sport

"In The Tropic of Football, Rob Ruck masterfully tells the story of how so many Samoans came to play a significant role in American football. Ruck, who has previously documented the history of Latin Americans coming into professional baseball, is by far the best qualified scholar to tell the story of Samoan-American struggles and successes. Ruck is a masterful storyteller who draws us into his work. I recommend that anyone interested in the history of the NFL and in understanding the role of Samoans and our society as a whole read this book!"
--John Nauright, professor of kinesiology, health promotion, and recreation at the University of North Texas and author of Long Run to Freedom

"Rob Ruck's The Tropic of Football tells a fascinating, multilayered story of an extraordinary South Pacific sporting micro culture, one that has spread from Pago Pago to Pittsburgh and beyond. It is richly contextualized and well reported, with an appreciation for island culture and history, the Samoan diaspora, and fa'a Samoa. This is a book that the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead would have admired, for it is about Samoans and, as she put it, 'their unique contribution to the human spirit.'"
--Daniel A. Nathan, professor of American studies at Skidmore College and former president of the North American Society for Sport History

Praise for Rob Ruck's Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game
"Ruck's gutsy account of this major sport with a tarnished past is thought provoking, arguing that "the integration of Black America has cost the price of its soul plus a crucial part of its social cohesion."
--Publishers Weekly

"A profound look at why Latinos have replaced African American baseball players, helping the reader understand the game as a business. Definitely a must-read for those who love the game, regardless of origin, race, or ethnicity."
--Juan Marichal, MLB Hall of Famer