ORONO, Maine – Author and professor Ed Rice is passionate about Penobscot Nation super-athletes and cousins Louis and Andrew Sockalexis.
Louis was a phenomenal baseball player who rose to legendary heights in the late 1800s and early 1900s and was the inspiration for the nickname “Indians” that the Cleveland major league franchise first adopted in March 1897, and then officially adopted in February 1915.
Andrew is among the greatest Maine marathon runners of all time, placing second in the Boston Marathon in 1912 and 1913, and fourth in the Olympic Marathon of 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden.
Rice, a former journalist who now teaches journalism at the University of Maine, has researched the Sockalexis cousins’ lives and written books about them; “Baseball’s First Indian” was published in 2003 and “Native Trailblazer” was published in 2008. But his work on the Sockalexis cousins is not done. He’d like Sports Illustrated, the premier sports magazine in the country, to acknowledge the Sockalexis cousins among Maine’s top athletes and he’s e-mailed the magazine’s editors on several occasions asking them to do so.
“I have spent several years now trying to get Sports Illustrated Magazine to (1) acknowledge a terrible mistake it made in publishing a list of ‘50 greatest athletes from the State of Maine’ in 1999 and published again in 2003, celebrating the magazine’s 50th anniversary, and omitting both Sockalexis cousins, and (2) provide me with the name of the individual ‘stringer’ from Maine who, either through racial prejudice or extraordinary ignorance, provided that list to the national publication.”
Rice will never know the stringer’s motivation for omitting the Sockalexis cousins from the list, because the man died two years ago, according to Scott Novak, vice president of communications for the Sports Illustrated Group.
But Novak was quick to admit that the magazine erred in omitting Louis and Andrew Sockalexis from its list of Maine’s 50 greatest athletes.
“Truthfully, we missed it. We made a mistake. We take issues of culture, race and religion very seriously and we have a long history of covering Native American athletes, Native American cultures and issues through the prism of athletics.”
Novak said the company could not find any communications from Rice, but he noted that Sports Illustrated published a feature on Louis Sockalexis in 1995.
“The article was before the 50 Greatest Athletes list, so we clearly recognized Louis’s contribution to sports. Usually we have a higher batting average on these features and we made a mistake.”
Asked if Sports Illustrated would do something to rectify the mistake, Novak said, “We’re examining ideas and options, but the story has already been published.”
Rice said he would still like to see Sports Illustrated acknowledge its mistake publicly for several reasons.
“First, it is perfectly symbolic of the disrespect shown the Sockalexis cousins here in Maine and around the country. They deserve to be acknowledged, but aren’t. Take for instance, the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame out in Lawrence, Kan. Both Sockalexis cousins should have been inducted into that hall years ago.”
Rice led a drive with the help of the Penobscot Nation back in 1999 to have the cousins inducted, and they were in 2000.
Rice feels a special responsibility to be proactive about educating people about the Penobscot athletes to seek the respect they deserve.
“Because their stories were ‘left’ to me, to research and write to achieve my dream of being a published author, I guess I now have a sense of obligation. I feel like I need to keep up the fight to make the very people who should be aware of the Sockalexis cousins, when they publish lists or talk about baseball/marathon running histories to remember these two remarkable men,” he said.
Rice seethes at the endemic racism toward this country’s indigenous people, which he says shows up in so many ways in many places.
“We say we’re ‘enlightened’ and past the era of being disrespectful to cultures and races of people. But Native Americans in this country, time and time again, are treated with what I now think is something worse than contempt – they’re ignored. They’re more invisible than Ralph Ellison’s ‘The Invisible Man.’ I can’t even get two resolutions through a Maine Legislature just to recognize the Sockalexis cousins.”
Rice also wants the Cleveland Indians to acknowledge receipt of a Penobscot Nation resolution of 2000 asking the team to stop using “that damn, insidious caricature Chief Wahoo. But, no, ignoring the tribe is far easier than saying ‘No, we won’t do that.’”
Rice has strongly criticized the Maine Legislature for ignoring the Sockalexis cousins’ story.
“A representative from the Portland Press Herald actually came looking for me, and Donna Loring, the former Penobscot representative to the Maine Legislature, when Cleveland reached the playoffs and were playing Boston in 2007 – and it was all about the historical connection of Sockalexis to the mascot ‘Chief Wahoo,’” Rice said.
He has also railed against the Maine communities of Wiscasset and Sanford for continuing to use “the racist and offensive nickname Redskins. Other Maine schools have recognized it’s not appropriate. I was sickened when I saw the Sanford High School band of Sanford, Maine was allowed to play at Obama’s inauguration. They shouldn’t be allowed to play before the first black president in U.S. history when the school doesn’t have the common sense not to be disrespectful to an entire race of people still living here in the United States.”
Rice said the publication of his books solidified his commitment to seek justice where he can for American Indians.
“I see all these issues as very connected to my campaign to take back legacies, where they have been stripped away or just forgotten, and to promote respect and honor where recognition has gone lacking.”