THE SPORTING SCENE
The Gathering of Tribes
Preppies vs. Indians on an old American playing
From The New Yorker
September 7, 1998
I-In The Box
Like most Native Americans, the members
of the Onondaga Athletic Club, in upstate New York, play box lacrosse.
Box is a faster and more violent game than the genteel sport of
field lacrosse, which is played in prep schools and colleges in
the United States. The Onondagan box is outdoors, and around the
playing surface are weathered wooden boards and heavy-duty fencing
to protect spectators from flying lacrosse balls. It is bare ground,
worn but not really smooth; the dirt is coarse and abrasive. Most
other Indian teams in what is known as the Senior B Box Lacrosse
League play in indoor stadiums, on the defrosted surfaces of hockey
rinks. The Onondaga take pride in their Spartan confines. "We'll
see what happens when we get them in our box," they say after a
tough loss at one of the fancier indoor places.
To get to the Onondagan box, I flew to the Syracuse airport, rented a car, jumped on I-81, and drove for twenty minutes, until I saw a large sign telling me I was now on the sovereign land of the Onondaga Nation, where no state or federal laws have jurisdiction. Most Indian reservations in the United States are quasi-sovereign territories, managed and partly subsidized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Onondaga, however, are completely independent. They govern themselves by a bicameral system set down in the Iroquois Confederacy's constitution, which was created long before the United States Constitution and is thought to have influenced both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
I took the next exit, and drove along Route 11-A until I saw the box. Sitting there beside the road, with lots of open space around it that seemed ideal for field lacrosse, it suggested a bitter ceremonial reënactment of the original trauma of being corralled into reservations on ancestral lands belonging to the first great political power north of the Rio Grande, the Iroquois.
Oren Lyons, who is the faith-keeper of the Onondaga and is a famous Native American lacrosse player, had told me to be at the box by eleven. The O.A.C. was going on a weekend road trip to Canada, and I was to ride along on the bus with them. Lacrosse, invented by Indians in northeastern North America long before the Europeans arrived, was adopted by nineteenth-century white men and turned into the sport I knew-another kind of tribal subculture, which flourishes in Eastern prep schools and élite colleges in the mid-Atlantic states. Lyons, a fit-looking sixty-eight-year-old with thick gray hair reaching halfway down his back, was teaching me about the Indian game. He was a good teacher and, I'd learned from our conversations, a skillful weaver of narratives that often began and ended with lacrosse but also brought together history, politics, spirituality, Iroquois nationalism, and the limits of private enterprise on Indian lands.
"This game is going to be a war," Lyons had told me. Tonight, the Onondaga club would be playing the Kahnawake Mohawk, in an indoor box on the Mohawk reservation, near Montreal. The Kahnawake had some dirty players, including, it was rumored on the bus, a member of the breakaway faction of Mohawk who, back in the seventies, took over an empty girls' summer camp in the Adirondacks and established a warrior enclave, the Indian version of the Montana Militia. (Eventually, the enclave moved to seven hundred acres in Altona, New York, where, in 1990, its members were involved in an eleven-day armed standoff with state troopers.) Because Oren Lyons was an outspoken opponent of the warrior enclave, as he was of any challenge to the unity of the six-nation Iroquois Confederacy (the nations are Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora), it was possible that some of the Mohawk players would go after some of the Onondagan players, among them Lyons's son, Rex, who was a star player on the Onondagan team.
It was a five-hour trip up to the Mo-hawk
reservation. On the bus were thirty-three men and boys, ranging
in age from thirty-eight to fifteen. In the front seats were the
older men: Rex and his cousin Kent Lyons, the Onondagan goalie;
a veteran defenseman known as Ace; and the team's coach, Freeman
Bucktooth. "We know when we play lacrosse that we are doing what
Iroquois men have always done, since the Creator gave us the game,"
Kent told me. Lacrosse helps to protect Iroquois culture from the
larger American popular culture, which threatens to obliterate it,
and which was present on the bus in many forms, from our Nike shoes
to "Jerry Springer Too Hot for TV," the video that was playing on
the bus's monitors. It featured censored outtakes from the controversial
TV show and ended with an earnest message from Springer to the viewers,
attacking his critics as enemies of free speech. Meanwhile, Kent
was describing a "medicine game" that many of the men and boys on
the bus had begun their season with-a kind of intramural lacrosse
game played over three days by males of all ages, from thirteen
to seventy-five, for the good of the community. "We play the medicine
game because it helps with the hunt, even if the hunt is behind
a computer screen and the forest is in an office building," Kent
explained. "Everything is a circle. Lacrosse makes the circle stronger."
I asked Rex if women played lacrosse much on the reservation; in the outside world, the growth of women's lacrosse in recent years has been explosive. On the rez, Rex said, girls are discouraged by the traditionalists from playing lacrosse, because, as he put it, the Creator didn't intend for them to play, and it's not good for the medicine.
Most of the guys on the bus were holding their sticks, tying and untying the knots in the webbing of the pockets, and spinning them in their hands. Lacrosse players seem to have a fetishistic relationship with their sticks, which are part hockey stick, part tennis racquet, and part club. In field lacrosse, sticks vary in length, depending on whether one plays attack, midfield, or defense (also known as longstick). Indian stick-makers used to supply most of the world's sticks. A hickory trunk was split, steamed, and bent at one end, and the pocket was woven of leather and catgut, which had a very particular smell in the rain. But in 1970 the Brine Company, based in Boston, introduced an aluminum stick with a molded plastic head and a rubber-and-nylon pocket, and within five years the Indian wooden-stick industry had all but disappeared.
For the youngest men on the bus, lacrosse is a chance to escape the entrenched poverty of life on the rez. What basketball is to the black urban poor, lacrosse is to an Indian kid-his shot at a college scholarship and a good education. One of the brightest prospects on the Onondagan's team was the coach's son, Drew Bucktooth, a shy, handsome kid sitting a few rows behind me. He could have his pick of full scholarships at lacrosse schools like Syracuse, Loyola, and Johns Hopkins, but, at his father's insistence, he is spending this year playing in Canada's junior hockey league, with the hope of being drafted into the N.H.L. and making some big money. If that doesn't work out, though, he retains his eligibility for college lacrosse.
Rex is thirty-five. He's a bit beaten up, but he still has a good burst of speed near the "crease," the circular area that surrounds the goal. He and his family live down the road from his father and next door to his mother. There are a couple of lacrosse nets in the back yard where his kids play. Both he and Kent do the high-altitude construction work for which the Iroquois are famous; they have jobs as union glaziers. They also play in a rock-and-roll band called White Boy and the Wagon Burners, after an insult that a white Canadian player once shouted at Rex when he had been repeatedly scored on by Rex and his teammates: "You ain't nothing but wagon burners anyway." Both Rex and Kent got lacrosse scholarships to Syracuse University, but neither of them graduated. When I asked Rex about that, he said the problem had been the "frat boys" whom he and Kent met on and off the lacrosse field. He told me there were some ugly incidents between them, but he added, "I wasn't prepared for college. Not mature enough. I wanted to keep my rock-and-roll band; there were just too many distractions. It wasn't only the frat boys--it was me."
Rex's college experience is typical of that of Native American lacrosse players: got the scholarship, couldn't stick it out. Although lacrosse offers Indians a chance to get off the reservation, it also helps to keep them on it, by reinforcing the native culture that makes it hard for them to assimilate at universities. Roy Simmons, who coached lacrosse for forty-one years at Syracuse University and retired only this year, told me recently, "Of all the Indians I have seen walk through my door on lacrosse scholarships, maybe a third have graduated. Most of them don't feel comfortable here, and leave after a year or so. I remember I had a kid come here from the rez and I went with him up to the high-rise where he had been assigned a room. He put down his bag, which had a few simple things in it, and looked around at his new white roommate's stereo and books and the nice goose-down bedspread, and then he pointed to the wall and said, 'What's that?' I said, 'That's a thermostat.' 'What's it do?' he asked. You know, he was uncomfortable. He was gone pretty soon." Rex's wife, Xina, wants their sons to go to a college far away, so they won't be tempted to come home on weekends.
I asked Rex if he was worried about politically motivated violence against him tonight. He shrugged. He was bringing along his wooden lacrosse stick in case things got out of hand. Today's aluminum and titanium sticks are easier to throw and catch with, but a wooden stick still hurts the most when you whack somebody with it. Ace said he wished he still had his wooden stick. He had recently placed it in the coffin of a friend who died of alcoholism at the age of thirty-eight.
The bus wound along the state roads of the ice-storm-devastated
forests of upper New York, the country between Lake Champlain and
the St. Lawrence River, which is thought to be where lacrosse was
invented, by the Eastern Algonquins. It was known to the Iroquois
as takitchawei, which means "bump hips." The game was spread
south by the Cherokee, who called it "little brother of war," and
west by the Sioux. Lacrosse games sometimes lasted as long as three
days, with goals as much as a mile or two apart, as many as a hundred
players on a team, and no side boundaries, like the game of Capture
the Flag that kids at summer camp now play in those same forests.
The French term la crosse was first applied to the Indians' sticks in the sixteen-thirties by a Jesuit missionary who lived among the Huron. The most famous game of the eighteenth century, as described by Francis Parkman in "The Conspiracy of Pontiac," was played between two tribes, the Ojibwa and the Ozaagii, in front of Fort Michilimackinac, a British encampment on the shores of Lake Michigan, on June 4, 1763. The British soldiers had thrown open the fort's gates in order to see the game better and were having a good time watching the Indians beat one another senseless (which is what some white people still enjoy doing on a Saturday night in the Senior B Box Lacrosse League), when, at a prearranged signal, the Indians flung the lacrosse ball through the fort's gate. Switching from lacrosse mode to war mode (an easy transition in those days), they killed most of the soldiers-some on the spot and the others later, slowly torturing them to death in the forest.
The transformation of takitchawei into the game that college students call "lax" occurred during the eighteen-sixties. The seminal figure was a Montreal dentist, Dr. William George Beers, one of those slightly creepy Victorian games enthusiasts who may have had more influence on our sports culture than was healthy. For lacrosse, Beers established boundaries, limited the number of players per side, set play to a clock, replaced the Indians' deer-skin ball with a hard rubber one, and drew up rational rules in keeping with Victorian ideals of social progress. Just as "civilization tamed the manners and habits of the Indians," Beers wrote, so lacrosse was "gradually divested of its radical rudeness and brought to a more sober sport." The game quickly spread to the United States; in 1877, New York University and Manhattan College played the first collegiate game, in Central Park. (Princeton and Rutgers had played the first collegiate football game only eight years earlier.) The sport caught on in cloistered pockets of the Northeast, where it can still be found--from the hardscrabble blue-collar lacrosse towns in upstate New York to the public high schools of west-central Long Island, and on to the lush greenswards of Baltimore preppiedom. While football has long since outgrown its folk origins to become a national spectacle, in which much of the country's melting pot is represented, lacrosse remains mostly an East Coast, mostly white game, and is largely unknown in Middle America.
The Indian game, being without boundaries or clocks, favored speed, stamina, and daring individual play. The white game favored organization, specialization, and strategy. Before Beers changed the rules, the Indians routinely beat the whites at lacrosse with their more athletic style of play. Professional Indian lacrosse teams were a common sight in the eighteen-seventies, but in 1880 Indians were banned from international competition, on the ground that they were accepting money to play in the Canadian lacrosse leagues.
Beers, in his rule-making, did not act purely in the interests of the game, as Rule IX, Section 6, of the original lacrosse rule book makes plain. It states, "No Indian must play in a match for a white club, unless previously agreed upon." Thomas Vennum, the author of "American Indian Lacrosse," writes, "The rule was a blatant, segregationist, 'separate but equal' clause, which would eventually and effectively bar Indians from participation in international lacrosse competition for more than a century."
Shut out of the field game, the Indians took up box lacrosse, which was invented in Canada, in 1930, by three white promoters who were looking for a way to make money with hockey rinks in the summertime. Box is a six-man, hockeylike sport, very different from the flowing, ten-man game of field lacrosse. It features slick stickwork, no-look passes, behind-the-back shots, and a thirty-second shot clock that makes for lots of action. There is also plenty of brutal checking and fighting, as there was in the old Indian game. The most famous white lacrosse players in the world are the Canadian twins Paul and Gary Gait, who grew up playing box in Vancouver, and they have inspired a new generation of potential field-lacrosse stars to play a flashier, Magic Johnson-style game.
That night in the Kahnawake box, several
of the Mohawk did seem to have it in for Rex Lyons. Early in the
game, the younger O.A.C. players were hanging back, not wanting
to challenge for position in front of the crease. Rex exhorted them
by trying a run through the middle and received a vicious slash
on one shoulder. In retaliation, Coach Bucktooth sent in Lab, the
Onondaga's "goonie"--a beefy guy whom lots of teams bring along
in the Senior B League, in case there's a rumble--and Lab made efficient
work of the guy who had clubbed Rex. He threw off one glove, grabbed
the Mohawk's jersey with that hand, punched his face mask with the
gloved hand until the man's helmet came off, hit him in the face
a couple of times, then pulled his jersey up over his head and slammed
him down onto the concrete-all in about five seconds.
Now the arena was thick with the menace of impending violence. As the second period began, the Mohawk face-off man came up to the Onondagan face-off man, drew a finger across his jugular vein, and said furiously, "I'm going to cut your tro-o-at."
Midway through the period, Rex again made a dash across the crease. One of the biggest of the Mohawk players spread his hands wide on his stick and, without making even a pretense of going for the ball, smashed the stick over Rex's head. Rex fell hard on the concrete floor, bouncing a little as he hit, and lay there face down for a few minutes. Eventually, he got up and limped back to the bench.
The game ended 10-6 Mohawk. Afterward, some of the older Onondaga had a reasonably friendly drink in the bar with some of the Mohawk players. They came out to the bus in fifteen minutes. But when Coach Bucktooth called the roll a few of the younger guys were missing. Someone said he'd heard them talking about going to a bar up the road. Rex, limping badly, went outside, found the missing guys in a girl's car, and brought them back, and Coach Bucktooth gave everyone a lecture about the importance of staying focussed for tomorrow night's game. Box had been a way of ritualistically confronting a certain threat of disorder--a Saturday night of drinking and mayhem--but had not completely exorcised this demon. It now seemed to be lurking somewhere in the dark at the back of the bus, where some of the younger guys were whispering about getting beer and bringing it back to the Best Western.
II-On The Field
The two great tribes of lacrosse enthusiasts
in the United States--the Iroquois and the white Easterners--almost
never play against each other. A rare exception took place in July,
in Baltimore, when the Iroquois Nationals, an all-star team made
up of the best players from the Six Nations, took on Team U.S.A.,
a dream team of white American players, at World Lacrosse 1998,
the sport's world championship.
It was the Iroquois Nationals' third appearance at the championships, which come around every four years, since the ban against Indians in international competition was lifted, in 1990. They were one of eleven teams at the games, and they ended up in fourth place, behind the United States, Canada, and Australia, and ahead of England (whom the Iroquois beat in an exciting 10-9 game, clinched by Rex with sixteen seconds to go) and the six other lacrosse-playing nations--Japan, Germany, Sweden, Wales, Scotland, and the Czech Republic. The Lyons family was represented in force. Not only was Rex there but Rex's son Monte was playing in the Under-Fifteen tournament; Rex's cousins Kent and Scottie were in the Masters; and Rex's father, Oren Lyons, was in the Grandmasters. Oren would also carry the Indian flag and lend spiritual support to the Nationals.
Homewood Field, at Johns Hopkins University, where the games were held, is the heartland of white lacrosse in the United States. The game is especially popular in the old-money suburbs to the north of Baltimore, like Cockeysville and Lutherville-Timonium; in Baltimore, the prep schools actually recruit lacrosse players from the grade schools. After prep school, the players move on to lacrosse colleges like Hopkins and Bucknell and Princeton. (This year's Princeton team, which was coached by the Team U.S.A. coach, Bill Tierney, and won the N.C.A.A. championship for the third year in a row, had five students from Baltimore's Gilman School on it--a cozy Amtrak relationship between Baltimore and Princeton that goes back at least as far as "This Side of Paradise.") Over the years, many postcollegiate lacrosse players have found employment in the Baltimore wing of the investment firm of Alex Brown, which used to be run by a stalwart member of the lacrosse fraternity, Buzzy Krongard (now the top adviser to the director of the C.I.A.). Thanks in part to lacrosse, the Baltimore preppies I know have managed to survive with their sense of entitlement more or less intact; for better or worse, they're not beaten down like New York preppies, who have had to compete in the remorseless meritocracy of Manhattan.
But the Baltimore lacrosse élite, not unlike the Indians, is a group in danger of being colonized by the surrounding popular culture. The code of amateurism, which is the closest thing to a spiritual ideal that their game has, is in the process of being transformed by the commercialization of sports in America. "The problem with lacrosse is that you can't make money doing it," Darren Lowe, a twenty-seven-year-old Team U.S.A. attackman, told me. Amateurism, which once served the ruling class as a way of excluding the people it didn't want to play with, now excludes the younger members of the ruling class from the ESPN sports culture that they want to belong to. The Team U.S.A. players I spoke to appeared a bit sheepish about not being able to make a living from lacrosse; not getting paid for your sport, it seems, places you lower in the status hierarchy than professional athletes. Things have changed since the days when the Indian players were banned from international competition because they earned money playing lacrosse.
Lowe, the son of a lacrosse coach, went to a public school in Mineola, Long Island, which is one of the prosperous postwar bedroom communities where lacrosse took root in the nineteen-fifties and became part of the delivery mechanism of the good life. He said, "When I told my college adviser I wanted to go to Brown, he said, 'Brown where? California?' I had eleven-hundred S.A.T.s and an eighty-five average." But Lowe got into Brown, where he was an All-American; his brother Kevin was an All-American at Princeton. After college, lacrosse helped get Darren a job at Lehman Brothers and Kevin a job at Merrill Lynch. "There's definitely a fraternity of lacrosse guys available who will help you get jobs on Wall Street," Lowe said. The business of bond-brokering in particular, which Lowe is in, is full of lacrosse jocks. He estimates that twenty per cent of the people on the foreign-reserve bond desk at Lehman Brothers are lacrosse players, adding, "I would say that lacrosse and crew are the two biggest sports networks on the Street."
On the eve of the Iroquois Nationals' Sunday
game against Team U.S.A., Oren Lyons and I visited the lacrosse
minipark that had been set up next to Homewood Field. It was a hot
night. Loose-limbed lax jocks roamed the Homewood grounds in packs
of three or four, their tribal allegiances to such local prep schools
as Gilman or St. Paul's or Boys' Latin proclaimed on their T-shirts.
Smooth-skinned girls in tartan skirts and sleeveless blouses with
the collars turned up were prowling in posses. Some boys walked
around bare-chested, their shucked-off T-shirts hanging from their
belts, dish-rag style, and all of them wearing the same kind of
knee-length khaki shorts and Teva sandals. The younger ones were
lean, but the college graduates were getting a bit stout from all
the beer drinking and barbecue that go with Baltimore lacrosse.
Both the boys and the girls carried sticks. Around Baltimore, kids
grow up with sticks in the umbrella stand next to the front door.
They play on the big lawn with their "golden," the same breed of
dog that's often seen wearing a red bandanna at the game.
"All this stuff," Lyons said, indicating piles of lacrosse merchandise for sale everywhere. He picked up one of the Warrior Company's titanium sticks, which, according to the accompanying promotional literature, was "precision engineered with Aerospace Grade Titanium using a proprietary seamless extrusion process," and which promised to give the stick's user "the Means to Dominate." On the side of the big Warrior tent was a picture of the president of the company, a twenty-seven-year-old Princeton graduate named David Morrow, who was also playing longstick for Team U.S.A. and had obtained the exclusive right to promote his products at the World Games. Around here, lacrosse is a medicine game, too: it brings good fortune to its community. The difference is that the Indians' medicine doesn't work so well outside the reservation.
Lyons seemed aware of this problem--of the need to preserve a cultural identity and at the same time shop it around in the larger marketplace in a way that benefits the people to whom it belongs. When we sat down at one of the barbecue places and a senior official in the New York State Republican Party stopped by to say hello, Lyons started telling him about a new complex he was hoping to persuade the Six Nations to build on Onondagan land. "It won't be a casino," Lyons said. "It'll be a theme park, though we don't call it that. A place to showcase our heritage, and teach democracy, on our terms. Everyone's running around like gaming is a panacea for everything, when it's not." That there is only one casino on native lands in New York state--Turning Stone, run by the Oneida--is due in no small part to Lyons's powerful opposition to gambling. He had told me earlier that he sees casinos as the single greatest threat to the Iroquois Confederacy. "With casinos--instead of tradition, which makes you strong--people only care about money, which makes you weak," he said.
After the official had gone, Lyons mulled over the possibility that by building the complex, which would be a boost to the economy of central New York, he might be able to persuade the state to settle some of the Iroquois land claims in the Indians' favor. In his thoughts, I sensed, a political version of Team U.S.A. vs. the Iroquois was already being played.
Before taking the field against Team U.S.A.
the following afternoon, the Iroquois Nationals gathered under a
big tree outside the Homewood Field Stadium and built a small fire
of twigs and bark. Chief Paul Waterman, the grandfather of Gewas
Schindler, one of the stars of the Nationals, produced some loose
tobacco and cupped it in his hands. It was then passed from player
to player around the twenty-six-member team. Thomas Vennum writes,
in "American Indian Lacrosse," that Cherokee conjurors used to scratch
players with rattlesnake fangs, to purify them, and that Creek players
were rubbed with a liquid made of "the track of a wolf and the burrow
of a crayfish," which allowed them to perform amazing athletic feats.
Today, the Iroquois sprinkled the tobacco on the fire and offered
a traditional prayer, invoking the help of this tree, the tree's
roots, the sun, the fields, the birds, the four winds, and all their
ancestors to protect them from injury and to make them strong. The
Iroquois jerseys were purple with yellow-and-white trim; they had
a traditional geometric design of a wampum belt on one sleeve and
the word "Brine," the supplier of the uniforms, in large letters
on the back.
About seventy-five feet away, their opponents, wearing red-white-and-blue uniforms, were posing for photographs on the steps of the Newton H. White Athletic Center. "Look, sweetheart," a lacrosse dad said to his little girl. "They're representing our country." Since the United States is far and away the dominant lacrosse nation in the world, the team is also representing the sport of lacrosse as a whole. U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body, is trying to make lacrosse a bigger presence on the sports landscape, by employing the same techniques that Team U.S.A. would be using on the field: teamwork, strategy, central control. The money to pay for this expansion comes from an annual fee that U.S. Lacrosse began collecting this year from players at any organized level, from youth to club--between fifteen and forty dollars per person per year, which is about what soccer collects from soccer moms and dads.
But the same clannishness that breeds such an intense following among lacrosse players and their families also works against lacrosse in its efforts to grow. Lacrosse will have to compete for fans' interest with made-for-TV sports like arena football and women's beach volleyball. History, context (the smell of barbecued "pit beef" drifting over from the concession stands behind the bleachers), and Wasp nepotism don't come through very clearly on cable. Box lacrosse has some of the right elements for TV (the flashy moves and the violence), but promoting box would alienate the lacrosse establishment, who see it as a lowbrow version of the field game.
At game time, five o'clock, the Baltimore sun was still burning down on the artificial Homewood turf, making it hot to the touch. Oren Lyons was standing by the Iroquois bench.
"Are you going to use that wooden stick?" a white boy asked Lyons, pointing to one of six hickory longsticks that Alfie Jacques, a native stick-maker, had made specially for the Iroquois Nationals.
"Yes," Lyons said.
"Is it true the Indians and the Americans don't like each other?" the boy asked.
Lyons said that it was not true, though they might not be too friendly for the next couple of hours.
"One, two, three, Iroquois!" The team members broke their final huddle and took their positions on the bright-green field: three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen, and the goalie.
Field lacrosse is a game of circles and lines--the natural religion of the Indians overlaid with the capitalistic religion of the white men. When the attackmen and midfielders jog-trot like hunters around the goal, looking for shots as the defensemen poke-check them with their longsticks, the game looks Indian, but when Team U.S.A. takes positions and whips the ball efficiently around the crease, running complex set plays, the game looks white. Lacrosse combines the stick skills of hockey, the two-on-two, pick-and-roll play of basketball, the flow of soccer, and the field generalship of football. (Unlimited substitutions are allowed.) In field lacrosse, you can take three or four minutes on offense, as in football, or you can play an uptempo game of thirty-second possessions with quick shots, as in basketball. "Partly because of its origins as a mix of North American cultures," I was told by Jim Grube, who is a former football and lacrosse coach at Middlebury College, "lacrosse is a true hybrid, which can be played at either end of the sports continuum."
Team U.S.A. won the face-off and began slinging the ball around in a circle, from the center out to the wing, then around behind the goal and out to the other wing, then back to the center. The Indians looked as though they were having trouble adjusting to the wide-open field: they were bunched somewhat awkwardly as their opponents slid toward the crease and looked for passes. The U.S.A. scored two goals quickly, and it looked as if the game would be a rout. The crowd cheered them loudly. A couple of white kids were rooting for the Indians, perhaps to piss their parents off, but for the most part the fans were solidly behind Team U.S.A.
"Come on, Iroquois!" shouted three Indian women wearing a lot of purple. "Be strong! You can run right through them!"
A white boy in a baseball cap, sitting next to me, looked at his buddy and said, "Yeah, right."
One of the Team U.S.A. attackmen tried some fancy stickwork and lost the ball to the Iroquois, who came down the field quickly and scored a goal. They won the ensuing face-off, and Gewas Schindler scored another goal on a dive into the crease. (The day before, I was in the press box when Schindler scored against Team Canada, and one of the announcers wasn't sure how to pronounce "Gewas." "Just call him Chief," another announcer advised.)
Coach Tierney sent in the mid-fielder Jesse Hubbard, who grew up across the street from St. Alban's, the Washington prep school that is Vice-President Gore's alma mater. Some girls in the stands started a cheer--"Jes-se Hub-bard, Jes-se Hub-bard." Team U.S.A. scored again. "Yesss!" the kid in the baseball cap cried, pumping his clenched fist. But the Iroquois got the ball back, and Rex Lyons broke hard across the crease--the same box move I'd seen him get clobbered for in Canada. This time, he scored.
Early in the second period, the score was tied, 3-3. Then it seemed to dawn on the Iroquois that they were playing even with the best team in the world, and a sort of shyness overtook them. The U.S.A. fired the ball around the crease, seeming to mesmerize the younger Indian players, and shot it into the net. They were deadly.
By the end of the third period, the score was 14-7, U.S.A. With the game out of reach, and the only remaining question being how bad it was going to get, one of the Iroquois players had pushed one of the U.S.A. players, the U.S.A. guy pushed back, and then, after a moment's pause, the Iroquois player hit the U.S.A. player in the face mask. The U.S.A. player fell to the ground, clutching his head. There were angry shouts from the fans at this intrusion of box into their field game. A man next to me, leaning against the chain-link fence that separated the fans from the field, yelled, "Get the animals out of the game!"
In the end, the score was 20-8-a respectable performance
by the 'Quois. Afterward, Oren Lyons walked back to the hotel carrying
the All Nations' staff, a scythe-shaped hickory stick with six golden-eagle
feathers along the top crook and more eagle feathers down the shaft.
It was attracting attention from lacrosse-stick-twirling white boys
who were running around the outside of the field.
"Is that real?" one of them asked.
"That's our flag," Lyons said simply.
"Is it real?" the boy asked again. In a culture that knows its Indian heritage mostly through Chief Wahoo and tomahawk chops at Braves games, the real thing loses its talismanic power. It's just better gear.
The boy ran off to join his friends. Lyons said to me, "Sixteen million people under that flag." I asked what he meant, and he said that he was referring to the sixteen million Indians who had died as a result of the European conquest of North America.
As we crossed the street, Lyons said, "You know, the Indians invented baseball, too."
"Invented baseball!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Baseball began with a man running back and forth between two bases, and the object was to throw the ball at him to get him out. That's an old Indian game. But white people aren't ready to hear that yet."
Copyright © John Seabrook 2003. All rights
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