All this talk about racism towards blacks

By: Old Hickory Trojan

this guy...

Time has mostly forgotten the Mighty Indian, Jim Thorpe. Like fellow athlete Sonny Liston, he seemed cursed in his life. And now he is pretty much forgotten, though experts to this day maintain he was the greatest single athlete to ever live.

Who was the Mighty Indian?

James Francis Thorpe was born in May 1887, probably on the 22nd or 28th of 1887. His name in his native language, Sac and Fox (Sauk) was Wa-Tho-Huk, which translates into English as "Bright Path." Legend has it that he was born in his parents cabin in the Indian Territory in Oklahoma, and as he was born - he was the eldest of two twins born that day - his mother saw a bright ray of light and thought it was a sign a special child was being born.

She was right.

Thorpe himself said in a 1943 note to The Shawnee News-Star that he was born May 28, 1888, "near and south of Bellemont, in Pottawatomie County, along the banks of the North Fork River... hope this will clear up the inquiries as to my birthplace."

But his life was filled with tragedy. Jim was born with a twin, Charlie, to whom he was more attached than words can say. The two boys attended the the Sac and Fox Indian Agency school in Stroud, Oklahoma, once they were old enough to go to school. The two boys were inseparable, and the more disciplined Charlie helped Jim through school, until Charlie died of pneumonia when they were nine years old. Jim could not bear the loss of his brother and started running away from school.

His father then sent him to the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, with the intention of keeping him from roaming by himself. But tragedy followed Jim once again, and his beloved mother died of childbirth complications two years later.

Thorpe again ran away to work on a horse ranch. He was not quite 12 years old.

Thorpe returned at 16, and decided to attend Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There his athletic ability was recognized for the first time, and he was coached by Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, one of the most influential coaches in football history.

But tragedy, as always, was not far behind Jim Thorpe, and at 16, before he could fully reconcile with his father, he became an orphan after his father Hiram Thorpe died from gangrene poisoning after an accidental wound in a hunting mishap.

Jim again dropped out of school. He worked for a time again on farms and ranches, and when he was tired of it, returned to Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Thorpe path to sports glory was a long and windy one.

It was there, and at that time that the Jim Thorpe legend began. Thorpe began an athletic career at Carlisle in 1907 when he walked past the track while the high jumpers were practicing, and in street clothes and old work boots beat all the school's high jumpers with his first ever high jump, which was an astounding 5-ft 9 inches. His earliest recorded track and field successes come from 1907. He also competed in football, baseball, lacrosse and even ballroom dancing, winning the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship.

There was, as President Eisenhower would say later, nothing Jim Thorpe could not do on any athletic field in any sport. Pop Warner would say in years to come that no human being who ever lived could match Jim Thorpe’s speed, strength, and reflexes.

Pop Warner did not want to let Jim Thorpe, his best track and field athlete, to compete in a dangerous game such as football, and risk losing him to injuries. Thorpe managed to talk Warner into letting him play running back in practice against the football team's defense. Pop Warner thought that if he let his track star get tackled a few times it would end his gridiron dream. Instead Thorpe "ran around past and through them not once, but twice.” It was like a grown man toying with children.

Supposedly Jim then walked over to Warner and said "Nobody is going to tackle Jim", while handing the coach the ball.

Thorpe captured the attention of the entire country in 1911. As a running back, defensive back, placekicker and punter, Thorpe scored all of his team's four field goals in an 18–15 upset of Harvard, a top-ranked team in the early days of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Thorpe’s team finished the 1911 season 11–1, and beat the top ranked team, but were denied the national title.

In 1912 Carlisle won the national collegiate championship - though it was officially denied them, they were an Indian school - pretty much solely due to Jim. Thorpe scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points during the season, and is credited officially with 27 touchdowns and 224 points. Thorpe rushed 191 times for 1,869 yards, and these figures do not include statistics from 2 of Carlisle's 14 games in 1912 because the records either were not kept, or were lost.

In Carlisle’s defeat of Number One Army, the future President Dwight Eisenhower would later say of him:

“Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw..”

In Jim Thorpe by Carrie Golus she would relate a story of how Jim could literally race down the field and catch his own punt.

In 1912, Thorpe entered the U.S. Olympic trials and made the team with ease in the pentathlon and the decathlon.

Thorpe not only competed in the Olympics in the decathlon and pentathlon, he also competed in the long jump and high jump. Thorpe won Gold Medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon.

Medals were presented to the athletes during the closing ceremonies of the games. Along with his two gold medals, Thorpe also received two “challenge” prizes, which were donated by King Gustav V of Sweden for the decathlon and Czar Nicholas II of Russia for the pentathlon. Supposed when King Gustav gave him his challenge prize, the King said, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world", and Thorpe simply replied, "Thanks, King."

The greatest irony of all was that although Thorpe was allowed to compete in the Olympics for the United States, he was himself not a citizen of the US. As a full member of the Sac and Fox nation he was not a citizen because Indians were not citizens. It was, in fact, 12 years later, in 1924, that Congress would grant American Indians the rights of U.S. citizenship, and the Mighty Indian who had represented the US so gloriously actually became a citizen.

But as always, sadness followed Jim Thorpe. In January 1913, the Worcester Telegram published a story announcing that Thorpe had played professional baseball, and other papers, always eager for a story that knocked down a hero, followed up. Thorpe had played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay; reportedly as little as two dollars per game.

College players regularly spent summers playing professionally but they were clever enough to use aliases. Jim Thorpe never cared to be anyone but himself, and did not.

Although the public didn’t care about two dollars, the Amateur Athletic Union, and its secretary James Edward Sullivan, were determined to strip the uppity Indian of his Gold Medals. Thorpe wrote a letter to Sullivan pleading for mercy – but of course, he got none. After all, he was just an Indian! Thorpe wrote plaintively:

“I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names ...”

The AAU happily decided to take Thorpe's amateur status retroactively, followed in short order by the International Olympic Committee, which unanimously voted to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals and awards.

The AAU and IOC did not bother to follow their own rules for disqualification of course. The rulebook for the 1912 Olympics stated that protests had to be made "within" 30 days from the closing ceremonies of the games.” The first newspaper reports did not appear until January 1913, about six months after the Stockholm Games. But rules did not exist to protect someone like Jim Thorpe.

Sullivan dismissed any concerns about following the rules, and no one protected Jim Thorpe.

After all, he was only an Indian.

Why is he considered by many to be the greatest athlete who ever lived?

Thorpe went on after winning Gold Medals in two sports he had never competed in before a few months prior to the Olympics, to play professional baseball for six years, and then professional football for eight years.

Thorpe also incredibly barnstormed with a professional basketball team for two years, in 1927 and 1928.

After his athletic career was over, Thorpe struggled to keep a job and provide for his family. His restless and impetuous nature made it hard for him to work a non-sports-related job and never held any job for more than a short period. He loved the outdoors too much to be confined at a desk. At his heart, Thorpe was the wild kid who ran 18 miles every day home from school to see his family, and worked with his beloved wild horses.

During the Great Depression he worked as an extra for a number of movies, usually playing an Indian chief in Westerns.

Tragedy still followed Thorpe, and the bane of the Indians, alcohol, seized him. Jim was a chronic alcoholic the second half of his life. He went completely broke in the early 1950s. When Thorpe was hospitalized for lip cancer in 1950, he had to be admitted as a charity case, At a press conference announcing surgery on the old hero, his wife, Patricia, wept and pleaded for help, saying, "We're broke ... Jim has nothing but his name and his memories. He has spent money on his own people and has given it away. He has often been exploited."

But who cared? After all, he was only an Indian.

Jim’s death, and the efforts to restore his Olympic Gold

In early 1953, Thorpe had his third incident of heart failure while eating dinner with his wife in their home in Lomita, California. Jim was briefly revived by artificial respiration and spoke to his wife, but lost consciousness shortly afterward and died on March 28, 1953. He was 65.

Author Robert Wheeler and his wife, Florence Ridlon, long after Thorpe’s death read of the injustices done him, and made a cause celebre out of having the AAU and United States Olympic Committee overturn its decision and restore Thorpe's amateur status before 1913.

Both the AAU and the United States Olympic Committe bitterly resisted restoring Jim’s eligibility.

In 1982, Wheeler and Ridlon created the Jim Thorpe Foundation and gained support from members of the U.S. Congress. Attorneys for the foundation were able to prove that Thorpe's disqualification had occurred after the 30-day time period allowed by Olympics rules, and not one single administrative rule for disqualification had been followed in Jim’s case. In AAU history, he was the only athlete treated thusly.

In October 1982, the IOC Executive Committee finally approved Thorpe's reinstatement though in a completely unprecedented ruling, the IOC declared that Thorpe was co-champion with Ferdinand Bie and Wieslander. Ironically, both men had made clear on the record they considered Jim Thorpe to be the real and only Gold Medal winner. On January 18, 1983, the IOC presented two of Thorpe's children with commemorative medals. Thorpe's original medals had been held in museums, but they had been stolen and have never been recovered. To this day, the IOC lists Thorpe as a co-gold medalist despite his having been the only winner.

After all, he was only an Indian.

Jim Thorpe and racism

Jim Thorpe often battled the racism and associated problems that native people still face in this country: An ignorance that reduces the indigenous peoples to relics of a Wild West, things the mainstream culture uses as mascots to be cheered at football games, or caricatures in movies. To this day, the Native Americans suffer. During this COVID-19 crisis Indians died at a far higher rate than the mainstream population. The schools, medical facilities, and housing the treaties promised have never been built or maintained.

The native population has the highest rates of alcoholism, suicide, infant mortality, and early death of any ethnic or racial group in this country.

The tragedy that followed Jim Thorpe his entire life follows his descendants and people to this day.

In a last, terrible, irony, as his children literally were burying him in a native ceremony, his third wife arrived with a court order and took his body to Pennsylvania.

The third wife, who needed money, made a deal with two towns, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. Both towns were seeking a tourist attraction. His third wife made a deal with town officials which, according to Thorpe's son Jack, was done for money for her. The towns bought Thorpe's remains, erected a monument to him, merged, and renamed the newly united town in his honor Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, even though Thorpe had never been there. The fact Jim, who came from, and lived, a native life, and wanted to be buried in his native Oklahoma on Indian land didn’t made a tiny bit of difference.

After all, who cares what an Indian wants, even if he was the greatest athlete to ever live?

Most fans of today don’t know his name or remember his exploits.

After all, he was only an Indian…

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