Though many Americans might be aware of the Olympian and football Hall of Famer Jim Thorpe or of Navajo golfer Notah Begay, few know of the fundamental role that Native athletes have played in modern sports: introducing popular games and contests, excelling as players, and distinguishing themselves as coaches. The full breadth and richness of this tradition unfolds in Native Athletes in Sport and Society, which highlights the accomplishments of Indigenous athletes in the United States and Canada but also explores what these accomplishments have meant to Native American spectators and citizens alike.
Here are Thorpe and Begay as well as the Winnebago baseball player George Johnson, the Snohomish Notre Dame center Thomas Yarr, the Penobscot baseball player Louis Francis Sockalexis, and the Lakota basketball player SuAnne Big Crow. Their stories are told alongside those of Native athletic teams such as the NFL’s Oorang Indians, the Shiprock Cardinals (a Navajo women’s basketball team), the women athletes of the Six Nations Reserve, and the Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School’s girls’ basketball team, who competed in the 1904 World’s Fair. Superstars and fallen stars, journeymen and amateurs, coaches and gatekeepers, activists and tricksters appear side by side in this collection, their stories articulating the issues of power and possibility, difference and identity, representation and remembrance that have shaped the means and meaning of American Indians playing sport in North America.
C. Richard King is an associate professor of comparative ethnic studies at Washington State University. He is the coeditor of Team Spirits: The Native American Mascot Controversy (Nebraska 2001).