TROPIC OF FOOTBALL: 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.
Rob Ruck, Senior Lecturer in the History Department at the University of Pittsburgh, is the author of Sandlot Seasons: Sport in Black Pittsburgh, The Tropic of Baseball: Baseball in the Dominican Republic, Rooney: A Sporting Life, and the recently released Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game. His documentary work includes Kings on the Hill: Baseball’s Forgotten Men, which won an Emmy for Cultural Programming, and The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game. He was on the committee that elected eighteen players from the Caribbean and the Negro Leagues to the Hall of Fame in 2006 and recently served as an advisor for Viva Beisbol, the permanent exhibit on Latinos at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. An undergraduate at Yale University, who did his doctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh, Rob lives in Pittsburgh with his wife Maggie Patterson, his co-author for the Rooney book.