More on the Writer’s Digest review

This time we’ll discuss other parts of the Writer’s Digest review of Oklahoma’s Carlisle Indian School Immortals, beginning with “The U. S. tendency to treat Native Americans like animals means that their biographies reflect the glory of sports—and the sorrow of poverty and bigotry.”

For starters, biographies of these men must “reflect the glory of sports” because, in their youth, these men were famous across the country as a result of their athletic abilities. Sure, newspaper coverage was often racist but it was respectful of their abilities and accomplishments. Sports opened doors to them that were not open to most young whites of that period. College was largely reserved for the elite. Few from the working class darkened the doors of these hallowed institutions. However, several Carlisle Indians were enrolled in major universities. These same schools complained about Carlisle not conforming to the same eligibility rules that they gave lip service to while recruiting the Indians to leave Carlisle and come play for them.

Others leveraged their Carlisle fame into jobs away from the reservations where opportunities were few. Not many of them became rich, but sports were not a route to wealth for all but a few in those days. Amos Alonzo Stagg was probably the highest paid man in sports because he was making $6,000 a year as a tenured professor with the University of Chicago. Jim Thorpe’s contract with the New York Giants paid him as much but only for five years. It wasn’t until Red Grange and Babe Ruth arrived on the scene that athletes became rich. By then, the Carlisle Indians who hadn’t retired from competition were in the twilight of their athletic careers.

Most of the Carlisle football players I have researched rose from poverty into the middle class. Many of them worked with their hands in occupations that some consider menial today. But most Americans worked in “menial” jobs those days and very few went to college. The grandchildren of these men who have contacted me have gone to college and living middle-class lives. Ironically, their family histories parallel those of immigrant groups given that Indians are the only non-immigrants in the country.

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