Sports Illustrated should recognize Sockalexises

Posted Aug. 10, 2009, at 7:41 p.m.

In a largely admirable July 31 editorial in the Bangor Daily News titled “A Baseball First,” the Penobscot Nation tribe was supported in its efforts demanding respect for Louis Sockalexis from the Cleveland Indians baseball franchise, but that editorial contains the very regrettable line that “the tribe might do well to narrow the focus of its outrage.”

No, it should not! And since more than 137 media outlets all across the country published the Maine Associated Press account of the event, the time is clearly now to demand respect or at least answers to questions those organizations do not want to address.

As the author of books on both Sockalexis cousins and as the individual who provided the tribe with the historical facts for the language in the resolutions for recognition, I am deeply disappointed that both BDN reporter Meg Haskell, who covered the Penobscot Nation event, and the editorial writer fell prey to the disingenuous and specious arguments made by a public relations representative from Sports Illustrated magazine.

Since 1999 and the publication of a list purporting to be Maine’s “50 greatest athletes,” I have tried, still without success, to speak with someone on the editorial side of Sports Illustrated to protest the absence of the names of both Sockalexis cousins. I have sent a letter and innumerable e-mails. Further, John Bear Mitchell and one of his Native American Studies classes at the University of Maine also put together a letter, signed by everyone in the class, to register protest with the magazine.

Recently a reporter with the national publication Indian Country Today spoke with Scott Novak, vice president of public relations for the Sports Illustrated Group, and Mr. Novak acknowledged the mistake, but said the magazine had no specific plans to apologize or make a public correction.

For Meg Haskell’s BDN article, the unnamed spokesman offered the totally meaningless remark about how the magazine has “a long history of covering race, ethnicity and culture through the prism of sports.” To date, the magazine has done a 1973 article on Louis Sockalexis that was riddled with errors, a completely fictional piece about “what if” Sock had had the great career his abilities suggested he might have had, and, yes, that 1995 piece, Novak does cite, that doesn’t at all appreciate the historical figure he actually was in baseball history, considering that five different books on Sockalexis have been published since 2003.

I had to laugh when the representative said to Haskell, that yes, if the magazine did a new list “we will certainly give them the utmost consideration.” Please, give me a break. Such a list won’t be done in the lifetime of anyone reading this column today. Who are we kidding? It was intended as an end-of-the-century retrospective. And the list for Maine made a mockery of my home state, and we haven’t done anything, yet, to satisfactorily make Sports Illustrated apologize.

Why is that list a “mockery”? Well, it includes among its “athletes” the names of “the man who invented rubber boots,” the kid who made the luckiest half-court shot in basketball tournament history, several coaches, one minor league basketball commissioner, a couple of guys who had the proverbial “cup of coffee” in the Major Leagues, etc.

And, it leaves off the list, Maine’s two extraordinarily great Native American athletes. Both Louis and Andrew Sockalexis would easily go right into the Top 10. Louis is, arguably, right along with Joan Benoit Samuelson, the absolute greatest athlete from our state. There is a very good reason Sports Illustrated needs to be confronted.

That is just how disrespectful the magazine’s mistake is. What if it had left off truly great Native American athletes like Charlie Bender, Billy Mills or Jim Thorpe from their respective states? I know your magazine would have immediately apologized and immediately offered a new list. But, hey, this is only Maine we’re talking about, and just poor Louis Sockalexis. So much for your “long history of covering race” and declaration that Sports Illustrated “respects the athletic achievements of the Sockalexis cousins.” Just words, aren’t they?

You can reach Scott Novak at 212-522-2687 or scott_novak@timeinc.com.

Ed Rice of Orono is an adjunct college instructor and author of “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis” and “Native Trailblazer, Andrew Sockalexis.” He has a Web site at www.sockalexis.info.

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