The Imperial Gridiron


The Imperial Gridiron

Manhood, Civilization, and Football at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Matthew Bentley and John Bloom

266 pages
19 photographs, 2 illustrations, 1 appendix, index


December 2022


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2022


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2022


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

2023 NASSH Anthologies Book Award Finalist

The Imperial Gridiron examines the competing versions of manhood at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School between 1879 and 1918. Students often arrived at Carlisle already engrained with Indigenous ideals of masculinity. On many occasions these ideals would come into conflict with the models of manhood created by the school’s original superintendent, Richard Henry Pratt. Pratt believed that Native Americans required the “embrace of civilization,” and he emphasized the qualities of self-control, Christian ethics, and retaliatory masculinity. He encouraged sportsmanship and fair play over victory.

Pratt’s successors, however, adopted a different approach, and victory was enshrined as the main objective of Carlisle sports. As major stars like Jim Thorpe and Lewis Tewanima came to the fore, this change in approach created a conflict over manhood within the school: should the competitive athletic model be promoted, or should Carlisle focus on the more self-controlled, Christian ideal as promoted by the school’s Young Men’s Christian Association? The answer came from the 1914 congressional investigation of Carlisle. After this grueling investigation, Carlisle’s model of manhood starkly reverted to the form of the Pratt years, and by the time the school closed in 1918, the school’s standards of masculinity had come full circle.

Author Bio

Matthew Bentley (1984–2018) was an affiliate lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. John Bloom is a professor of history at Shippensburg University. He is the author of There You Have It: The Life, Legacy, and Legend of Howard Cosell and To Show What an Indian Can Do: Sports at Native American Boarding Schools, among other books.


"[The Imperial Gridiron] is a valuable contribution that is truly the collaborative product of two fine scholars."—Wade Davies, South Dakota History

"The Imperial Gridiron provides another good addition to the study of the complexities of race and athletics that continue to find discourse inside and outside of academia."—Roger Moore, Chronicles of Oklahoma

“Carlisle football teams always aimed to show off masculine American Indian bodies. Tracing shifts in the meaning of that display—from virtuous civilization to a more brutal physicality—Matthew Bentley and John Bloom tell a powerful new story about the internal contradictions and long decline of America’s iconic Indian boarding school. A revelatory book that is not to be missed.”—Philip J. Deloria, author of Indians in Unexpected Places

“Clear and engaging. This book offers an accessible history of the entanglements of race, empire, sport, gender, and schooling as manifested in the play of football at the Carlisle institution. While we are fortunate to have an increasingly sophisticated literature focused on Native Americans in the field of sports studies, this book stands alone in its close reading of masculinity, racial formation, and modernity.”—C. Richard King, author of Redskins: Insult and Brand

The Imperial Gridiron contributes significantly to the fields of off-reservation Indian boarding school studies, sport studies, and studies on masculinity. What makes this book unique is that it offers a serious interrogation of Native athletes and masculinity by providing the reader with scholarly and theoretical depth.”—Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, author of Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902–1929

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Manhood at Carlisle, 1879–1903
2. Playing White Men, 1893–1903
3. The Rise of Athletic Masculinity at Carlisle, 1904–1913
4. “Civilization” on Trial
5. The Aftermath


2023 NASSH Anthologies Book Award Finalist

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