The Real All-Americans by Sally Jenkins

This book combines my two real passions – football and history – so was always likely to come out a winner in my eyes. The Journey begins in the American West, in Indian Territory, in the heart of the expansion westward, and the conflict between the new American nation and the Native Americans forever being forced into tighter and tighter pockets of land.

History is full of stories of the Indian Wars, the bitter conflict between the United States and the Native Americans, and many in the government and military at the time believed that the only way the conflict would ever be resolved was total military victory. Essentially to wipe Native Americans off the map entirely. One man had a different plan however, his plan to civilise the Indians and educate them, with a view to assimilation into the white man’s world.

His ideas brought about the creation of Carlisle Academy, a school for Indians. The children of great Indian Chiefs were collected and sent to Carlisle, where they could be educated, and sent home. Somewhere along the way, they began to play football – a game at this stage largely confined to the Ivy Leagues. Handicapped by a lack of size, the Carlisle Indians instead turned to invention, skill, intelligence and misdirection to overcome the odds. Carlisle not only battled superior size, but also the view that the white world had of the ‘lazy, stupid Indian’, an ignorant view that would be repeated when it came to black players years later.

Not only did Carlisle do itself proud on the football field, but they also produced one of the finest athletes the world has ever known, Jim Thorpe, a student at Carlisle from 1904 to 1913. The story features a series of famous football characters, from Thorpe, to Pop Warner, Dwight Eisenhower, and the imposing figures of the Ivy League powerhouses of Harvard and Yale. The book is not only a story of college football in the early part of the century, but also an amazing tale of the relationship between the white world and the Native Americans.

The inevitable and repeated betrayal of the US Government as it advanced westward led many Native American leaders to see that their way of life could never survive as it was. They felt that sending their children to be educated at a place like Carlisle would be a better option than annihilation at the hands of the military.

The Real All Americans brings you inside Carlisle Academy, into the world of the young Indians, striving for acceptance in a world of the white man, striving against xenophobic stereotypes of them as a people, and striving against a larger and arrogant opponent on the football field in the dominant Ivy League power houses. Carlisle is the tale of a generation of Native American children who lived through a remarkable time in American history, and who found time during the upheaval to take on the college football world and win.

By the beginning of the Carlisle football story, the team was just getting by with desire. The desire to compete and show well. By the end of their story, the Carlisle team had pioneered some of football’s biggest changes, been the inventors of some of the finest football seen in the land, and owned one of the world’s finest athletes.

This is an excellent book for those of you like me with an interest in both history and football, and it combines the two very well.

One thought on “The Real All-Americans by Sally Jenkins

  1. Pingback: Book Reviews | SplitCoverage

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