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Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpeby Kate Buford
Synopses & Reviews
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 NFLand#8217;s Oorang Indians, the Shiprock Cardinals (a Navajo womenand#8217;s basketball team), the women athletes of the Six Nations Reserve, and the Fort Shaw Indian Boarding Schooland#8217;s girlsand#8217; basketball team, who competed in the 1904 Worldand#8217;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.
The greatest American Indian baseball player of all time, Charles Albert Bender was, according to a contemporary, and#8220;the coolest pitcher in the game.and#8221; Using a trademark delivery, an impressive assortment of pitches that may have included the gameand#8217;s first slider, and an apparently unflappable demeanor, he earned a reputation as baseballand#8217;s great clutch pitcher during tight Deadball Era pennant races and in front of boisterous World Series crowds. More remarkably yet, and#8220;Chiefand#8221; Benderand#8217;s Hall of Fame career unfolded in the face of enormous prejudice. Winner of the 2009 Seymour Medal, this skillfully told and complete account of Benderand#8217;s life is also a portrait of greatness of character in the face of incredible pressure.
With a journalistand#8217;s eye for detail and a novelistand#8217;s feel for storytelling, Tom Swift takes readers on Benderand#8217;s improbable journeyand#8212;from his early years on the White Earth Reservation, to his development at the Carlisle Indian School, to his big break and eventual rise to the pinnacle of baseball. The story of a paradoxical American sports hero, one who achieved a once-unfathomable celebrity while suffering the harsh injustices of a racially intolerant world, Chief Benderand#8217;s Burden is an eye-opening and inspiring narrative of a unique American life.
The first comprehensive biography of the legendary figure who defined excellence in American sports: Jim Thorpe, arguably the greatest all-around athlete in U.S. history.
With clarity and an eye for detail, Kate Buford traces the pivotal moments of Thorpes incomparable career: growing up in the tumultuous Indian Territory of Oklahoma; leading the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team to victories against the countrys finest college teams; winning gold medals in the 1912 Olympics pentathlon and decathlon; defining the burgeoning sport of professional football; and playing long, often successful—and previously unexamined—years in professional baseball.
At the same time, however, Buford recounts the difficulties Thorpe faced as a Native American. We also see the infamous loss of his Olympic medals, stripped from him because he had previously played professional baseball, an event that would haunt Thorpe for the rest of his life. We see his struggles with alcoholism and personal misfortune, and how he came to distrust many of the hands extended to him. We learn the details of his vigorous advocacy for Native American rights while he chased a Hollywood career, and the truth behind the supposed reinstatement of his Olympic record in 1982.
Here is the story of a complex, iconoclastic, profoundly talented man whose life encompassed both tragic limitations and truly extraordinary achievements.
About the Author
Kate Buford is the author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life. She has written for the New York Times and has been a commentator on NPRs Morning Edition and American Public Medias Marketplace.
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