Friday, November 8, 2013

Honoring and remembering Jim Thorpe

Honoring and remembering Jim Thorpe
May 28, 1888 – March 28, 1953

James Francis aka Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox: Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as "Bright Path") was a legendary American Indian athlete with caucasian ancestry. Considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, he won Olympic gold medals for the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football (collegiate and professional), and also played professional baseball and basketball.

Of American Indian and European American ancestry, Thorpe grew up in the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma. He played as part of several All-American Indian teams throughout his career, and "barnstormed" as a professional basketball player with a team composed entirely of American Indians.

In a poll of sports fans conducted by ABC Sports, Thorpe was voted the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century out of 15 other athletes including Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan.

Thorpe, whose parents were both half Caucasian, was raised as an American Indian. His accomplishments occurred during a period of heavy racial inequality in the United States. It has often been suggested that his medals were stripped because of his ethnicity. While it is difficult to prove this, the public comment at the time largely reflected this view.

At the time Thorpe won his gold medals, not all Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens. (The U.S. government had wanted them to make concessions to adopt European-American ways to receive such recognition.) Citizenship was not granted to all American Indians until 1924.

While Thorpe attended Carlisle, students' ethnicity was used for marketing purposes. A photograph of Thorpe and the 1911 football team emphasized racial differences among the competing athletes. The inscription on the most important game ball of that season reads, "1911, Indians 18, Harvard 15."

Additionally, the school and journalists often categorized sporting competitions as conflicts of Indians against whites; newspaper headings such as "Indians Scalp Army 27–6" or "Jim Thorpe on Rampage" made stereotypical journalistic play of the Indian background of Carlisle's football team.

The first notice of Thorpe in the New York Times was headlined "Indian Thorpe in Olympiad; Redskin from Carlisle Will Strive for Place on American Team."
His accomplishments were described in a similar racial context by other newspapers and sportswriters throughout his life.

In June 2010, Jack Thorpe filed a federal lawsuit against the borough of Jim Thorpe, seeking to have his father's remains returned to his homeland and re-interred near other family members in Oklahoma.

Citing the American Indian Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Jack was arguing to bring his father's remains to the reservation in Oklahoma, where they would be buried near those of his father, sisters and brother, a mile from the place he was born. He claimed that the agreement between his stepmother and Jim Thorpe, Pa., borough officials was made against the wishes of other family members who want him buried in Native American land. Jack Thorpe died at 73 on February 22, 2011.

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