“Neither the highly commercialized nature of professional sports today nor the more casual attitude prevailing in amateur activities captures the essence of Indian sport,” writes Joseph B. Oxendine. Through sport, Indians sought blessings from a higher spirit. Sport that evolved from religious rites retained a spiritual dimension, as seen in the attitude and manner of preparing and participating. In American Indian Sports Heritage, Oxendine discusses the history and importance in everyday life of ball games (especially lacrosse), running, archery, swimming, snow snake, hoop-and-pole, and games of chance.
Indians gained nationwide visibility as athletes in baseball and football; the teams at boarding schools such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania and the Haskell Institute in Kansas were especially famous. Oxendine describes the apex of Indian sports during the first three decades of the twentieth century and chronicles the decline since. He looks at the career of the legendary Jim Thorpe and provides brief biographies of other Indian athletes before and after 1930.