Three-time National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin’s Undefeated charts the rise of Jim Thorpe, Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon and All-American fullback for the Carlisle Indians, one of the most innovative football teams ever to take the field. Despite its focus, readers need not be sports fans to enjoy this book.
As a Native American man born in 1888, racism was a constant in Thorpe’s life, but it’s because of this daily prejudice that Thorpe first set foot on a football field. At the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a boarding school that was created to “kill the Indian, and save the man,” Thorpe encountered the game that he and his Carlisle teammates would come to redefine.
In those days, football was a hybrid of rugby and bare-knuckle boxing. Guided by Coach Pop Warner—inventor of the reverse, the single wing and a multitude of other plays and formations—Carlisle did more than any team to move football away from its brutal origins. Warner ran a “whirlwind offense” that pitted the Carlisle players’ speed and agility against the bone-crushing brawn of America’s sporting elites: Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale.
Along with redefining how the game was played, Carlisle’s emergence as a football powerhouse forced the nation to face what was then an uncomfortable and controversial truth: Given a level playing field, Native Americans could compete with anyone—America’s most privileged sons included.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Steve Sheinkin about Undefeated.