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The Samoan football phenomenon: A remnant of American imperialism

by | Oct 12, 2022 | American Samoa, Opinion | 0 comments

Another weekend of college football madness approaches. Rowdy students roar with anticipation as their pride and joy take the field. Yet, underneath America’s pastime lies a gripping subplot—a wave of Samoans gracing the gridiron with unmatched grit. 

The Saturday extravaganza is punctuated by a brawl of west coast foes. Crimson pendants span the TV screen as the Utah Utes execute their hard-nosed, mistake-free game plan. An inexperienced spectator would notice a peculiar trend. Polynesian players dominate the line of scrimmage, embodying an American homeland unbeknown to citizens and neglected by governments. America’s favorite sport is not exempt from imperialist remnants or religious fervor; rather, west coast football is defined by them.

World War II—1941—Japanese bombers return from Pearl Harbor with a thirst for destruction. The Samoan islands, a strategic outpost in the Indo-Pacific, become their next target. As citizens funnel into bombproof shelters, Pago Pago Harbor emerges unscathed. 

Following the triumphant victory, American support for Samoa dwindled. As American forces decommissioned the naval base, an exodus of Samoans flocked to the continental US and adopted American culture. Once an emblem of American sovereignty, Samoa embodied American failure.

The Cold War marked a tipping point in American neglect. The archipelago, forgotten by governments and citizens alike, was nationless. A Reader’s Digest publication of “America’s Shame in the South Seas” prompted investments in Samoan infrastructure—most notably a token of Americana, unlike any other, high school football. Vivid descriptions of “Pago Pago Bay marred and befouled by hideous over-water outhouses, rutty and teeth-jarring roads unrepaired for years, [and] crumbling reservoirs” dispelled outrage over the United State’s overseas spending. The American solution: an unrivaled football infrastructure in the heart of the Indo-Pacific. 

Lisa Uperesa’s “Gridiron Capital: How American Football Became a Samoan Game” frames football as the “Samoan Dream” of upward mobility. Success entails fleeing the homeland in search of football-induced affluence. Players are conditioned to savor the “unbridled joy in the contact of the sport” as they wager their well-being for a hazy career across the globe.

Indeed, the gridiron would serve to rectify decades of apathy. Many Samoan people, lagging behind in health, income, and education, utilized their bulky frames for defensive excellence. Dubbed by many as “the Samoan steroid”, some have stereotyped Samoans as being “genetically predisposed” to build lean muscle and bone mass. 

Hall of Fame talents emerged from the archipelago as Samoans adopted the sport as their own. Troy Palomalu, Marcus Mariota, and Junior Seau have all stamped their legacies in the college and professional ranks. Recent figures even suggest Samoans are 40 times more likely to complete the treacherous path to the NFL. 

European and Anglo-Saxon missionaries spread Christianity across the Indo-Pacific. However, The Book of Mormon, published by Joseph Smith in 1830, reigned supreme in Samoa. Mormon missionaries initiated a civilizing mission across the archipelago, proselytizing 60 Mormons before a rapid disappearance of the LDS community. Holy tropes once again pierced through localities following World War II. Until this day, Temples throughout Samoa stand as badges of American hegemony.

Thus, the Samoan football phenomenon is not merely a coincidence. An American conquest, motivated by conversion and succeeded by abandonment, lingers well into the 21st century. As the Samoan homeland endures systemic neglect, thousands flee toward the American continent. Players donning BYU blue and Utah Ute red represent a civilizing conquest initiated nearly a century ago. After all, segments of our nation stand united under two universal truths: Christian tenets and good ol’ American football.  



Jake Siesel

Jake Siesel

Jake is a senior at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina. He strives to ignite grassroots advocacy, utilizing an attorneyship at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Teen Court and the platform at Pasquines to champion justice in his community and beyond. Jake utilizes education as a forum for change. He serves as an educator for young scholars, contributing to the Teen Board for Freedom School Partners, mentoring for Big Brother Big Sisters of America, and teaching at a Hebrew School. At Providence Day, Jake spearheads Students for the Political Advancement of Mankind and the Hispanic Culture Club, along with playing for the Varsity Tennis Team. Jake is an Opinion Intern Correspondent at Pasquines.


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