ATHLETES: AMERICAN INDIAN LIVES, Nathan Aaseng; Facts on File, Inc., 460 Park Avenue South, N.Y., NY 10016, (800) 322- 8755, FAX: (212) 213-4578. 1994, 118 pages, index, annotated bibliography, black and white photos. Hardcover, $17.95; 0-8160-3019-7
Aaseng, a microbiologist who has written many children's science books, is apparently a closet sports -- at least sports page reader -- fan. His prose is the meechanical, cliched action-writing of average sports writers, who describe teams as "romping" over one another and the rest of the jargon. However many like this style and the book will be popular with boys, no doubt. What's wrong with it is that it has almost nothing of the Indian backgrounds of most of the players -- a few bits about racism in early pro ball, and quite a bit about the tribulations of Jim Thorpe, whose Olympic Gold medal was rescinded, probably as much because of class as race. Only for one of the 2 female athletes -- the one who did not continue her successful college basketball career, but died in a car accident -- is there a little Indian personalia, describing the racism the Pine Ridge Lady Thorpes team faced:
"[SueAnne] Big Crow stood outside the gymnasium at Lead, South Dakota, and heard the taunts and war whoops of the hostile crowd. Her teammates were stunned and hurt. The senior who was supposed to lead the team in their warmup drills did not want to go on the court. Although only a 9th grader, Big Crow offered to go first. As she ran out onto the court with the basketball, th hostile whooping grew louder. At center court, Big Crow stopped, tossed the ball to a teammate and took off her warmup jacket. She wrappd it around her shoulders and bgan the Lakota shawl dance. The gym fell silent except for the sounds of her chanting. Then she took the ball, sprinted around the court and as the crowd applauded wildly, laid the ball in the bgasket. Bolstered by the courage of their young teammate, the Lady Thorpes won the game easily."
If only there had been more like that, instead of a dreary sportswriter-type summary of the plays in game after long-over game for the better-known male athletes. There is very little about family lives, personal goals other than to succeed in sports, academic problems or overcoming them. One suspects that if Big Crow had not died, but had gone on to some type of athletic success as Aaseng sees that, that short vignette would have been clipped out in favor of endless old sports press clips. Nobody except Big Crow actually comes across in this book as a 3-dimensional human being with a life off the playing field. The Indian identities of none of them are discussed, except for a brief mention of thir tribes. It is quite clear that for several, thee Indian identity aspect was very minimal, i.e. rather remote Indian ancestry of young people who grew up in white communities, and didn't want to be Indian. Because most boys -- including Indian youth -- are very interested in sports, a book like this is desirable for school libraries, but (except for a few scattered passags like the one quoted), this isn't it. Reviewed by Paula Giese
Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996
Last Updated: Friday, April 19, 1996 - 5:56:30 AM