Book Tour is a new Web feature and podcast. Each week we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.
The Real All Americans is Sally Jenkins' sweeping nonfiction account of two coinciding chapters in American history: Just as the Western frontier was closing, football "jumped up out of the mud" to replace it in the national psyche. Jenkins' tale takes readers from a real battle in 1866 to a football contest in 1912, pitting the Carlisle Indians against West Point. "Football," says the veteran sportswriter, "became a substitute for war," and in its earliest days the game, like the real thing, could be mortally dangerous.
Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian School, founded by a former Army officer and abolitionist to give Native Americans a place in society, features prominently in The Real All Americans. The school's football team strove to prove their respectability by challenging — and beating — their counterparts in the Ivy Leagues. Although the school shut its doors in 1918, the winning team established Jim Thorpe and coach Glenn "Pop" Warner as two of the best-known names in American sports. It also introduced plays, including the forward pass, that are standard in the game today.
Jenkins, an award-winning Washington Post columnist, has a reputation for taking on the most controversial issues in American sports with grace and insight—though she confesses that she "set some pants on fire" with a recent column characterizing basketballer Kobe Bryant as self-centered.
As a child, Jenkins got a head start in the press box when she accompanied her father, Dan Jenkins, on his rounds as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. She went to work for the magazine in 1990.
The Real All Americans is Jenkins' eighth book. She has written three bestsellers, including It's Not About the Bike, with Lance Armstrong. She's also reported stories for NPR's All Things Considered.
This discussion of The Real All Americans took place in June 2007 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. in Washington, D.C.