Book of the Week: Undefeated, by Steve Sheinkin

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team, by Steve Sheinkin
Nonfiction

Back in the early 1900s, football was just getting started. And if you think football is violent and dangerous now, imagine how much crazier it was back when helmets were optional, nobody wore pads, and passing wasn’t allowed, so every play ended up in a giant pile of players on the ground.

Into this chaos entered Pop Warner – a guy who was way better at coming up with plays than executing them. He coached at Carlisle Indian School, where Native American kids were “re-educated”, often by force – forbidden to speak their home languages, prevented from even talking about, much less participating in, their families and traditions. With Pop Warner as their coach, the Carlisle Indians became one of the toughest and most creative teams in the country, drawing huge crowds and lots of media coverage. Despite all their success, they still couldn’t beat the really big teams like Harvard and Princeton.

And then in 1906, the game changed. After a series of deaths and devastating injuries, football was getting banned from universities across the country, so they instituted rules that turned football into something a lot more like the game we know today. Enter Jim Thorpe, a tall, skinny track star whose real love was football – and who would lead the Carlisle team to a whole new level of success, and their place in football history.

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