There's only one little problem with the theme of the article, which you might notice by glancing at Angel's picture. (The NYT runs a picture of Angel with her little sister, who looks just like her.)
That got me to thinking about how there used to be a stereotype that American Indians were good at sports. Jim Thorpe was the most famous all-around athlete in America ninety years ago. He was, roughly, half-American Indian and half-white and grew up on a reservation. Thorpe wasn't unique at the time -- there were a fair number of Native American baseball stars, such as Chief Bender, the half-Chippewa Hall of Fame pitcher for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Another Hall of Famer was outfielder Zack Wheat of the Dodgers, who was half-Cherokee:
"In an era that also produced Jim Thorpe and Chief Bender, Wheat's Indian blood was thought by some to be the primary reason for his excellence. "The lithe muscles, the panther-like motions of the Indian are his by divine right," Baseball Magazine wrote in 1917."But where have the American Indian athletes gone since then?
Notah Begay (who was on the most interesting college golf team of all time at Stanford, along with the semi-crippled Casey Martin, who won the right to ride in a golf cart in pro tournaments in a famous Supreme Court decision, and some guy named Eldrick Woods Jr.) is a rare full-blooded Indian athlete (Navajo and Pueblo). He won four times in his first two years on Tour (1999-2000), but has run into drunk-driving and back pain problems. (Tiger, by the way, is 1/8th American Indian, via his late father Earl Woods. The Green Beret colonel was always said to be half black, one quarter American Indian, and, oddly enough for somebody born in Kansas in 1932, one-quarter Chinese.)
Sonny Sixkiller was a quarterback when I was kid, and certainly had a cool name, but there sure haven't been many other Indian athletes recently.
American Indians make up 0.8% of college students, but only 0.3% of college athletes.
Here's a table that quantifies my impression: Baseball Almanac lists 49 American Indian major leaguers, out of which 43 of them began their careers from 1897-1946. Some of the more prominent names on the list include Indian Bob Johnson, hard-hitting and hard-drinking Rudy York, Yankee reliever Allie Reynolds, and Pepper Martin, the Wild Horse of the Osage. (Note that I haven't investigated these claims.)
So, there have been only six Indians to begin their careers in the big leagues in the 60 years since 1947.
Rookie pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who was practically unhittable in 24 innings for the Yankees this year is probably the best known Indian baseball player to enter the majors since the fall-off in 1947. He is half-Winnebago, but wasn't raised on the rez. Selena Roberts wrote in the NYT in "Chamberlain Offers His Tribe Hope:"
"With every pitch, Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain peels back the stereotypes of the American Indian athlete as problematic, as fearful of success, as self-loathing."
Perhaps, American Indians just married into white America more and stopped identifying as Indian as much after 1946. For example, Hall of Fame Johnny Bench is said to be 1/8th Choctaw.
Or maybe Indians got fatter when the economy picked up after WWII? They tend to have a lot of trouble with diabetes these days.
Wait a minute ... what happened in baseball in 1947?
I bet that explains part of why the rate at which big-leaguers identified on the list as Indians entered the big leagues dropped by almost an order of magnitude after Jackie Robinson: some of these Indian ballplayers were Indian like Angel Goodrich is Indian.
Indeed, 16 of the 34 Indians to enter the big leagues from 1909 to 1946 were Cherokee. The Cherokee may have been the most culturally advanced tribe. Sequoyah invented an alphabet for them and they had their own newspaper in the 1820s before Andy Jackson kicked them out of the Southeast and down the Trail of Tears into Indian Territory. One aspect of their enthusiastic embrace of white American culture was that they kept black slaves. Earlier this year, the Cherokee Nation kicked 2800 people out of the tribe for being descended from black slaves rather than from Indians.
It's a clever theory, but I haven't yet found photos of Indian ballplayers who looked particularly black.
We do know of one example where a black ballplayer posing as an Indian was exposed. As I wrote in "How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America:"
In 1901, [Hall of Fame manager John J. McGraw] almost succeeded in smuggling a light-skinned black second baseman onto his team as a full-blooded Cherokee named "Chief Tokohama.''It might seem exciting to do some digging and find out which "Indian" ballplayers of this era were significantly black, since you could then claim you had discovered somebody who had "broken the colorline before Jackie Robinson." That sounds like a big deal, but it's not, because there were several blackish Cuban ballplayers in the 1930s, such as Bobby Estalella, who came up in 1935 with the Washington Senators. The point of what Robinson did was to break the color line publicly.