110 years later, new steps taken to fully restore Jim Thorpe's Olympic medals
Tribal citizen made sports history, today's scholars try to win back what was rightfully his.
On this, the anniversary of the day Jim Thorpe won the pentathlon at the summer Olympics in Sweden back in 1912, Indigenous Wire shares some new research about a 40-years-long effort to have his gold medals completely restored.
Courtesy of the Doug Williams Center, scholars Florence Ridlon and Robert Wheeler recently researched and wrote a 48-page historical account of what happened to the tribal citizen’s two gold medals and his life and times after his victories were taken away by Olympic leaders, seemingly without appropriate cause.
“Jim Thorpe was a Sac and Fox and Potawatomi Native American, two-time Olympic gold medalist, co-founder and first President of the NFL, and Major League Baseball player,” the authors note. “For over a century, Thorpe has been denied the full celebration of his accomplishments. This research supports a petition to reinstate Thorpe as the sole gold medalist for his 1912 Olympics victories.”
If the research and related campaign is successful, two other foreign athletes who were awarded gold alongside Thorpe in the record books would have their names removed. Thorpe would then be recognized as the sole winner in his two events, as should have been the case all along, according to the study's findings.
Nedra Darling, a former longtime spokesperson for the U.S. Interior Department, is leading the effort to publicize the research and related petition. She is a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and of Cherokee Nation descent. Her advocacy on behalf of Thorpe — who was a friend of her father — comes in the form of her work with the Bright Path Strong non-profit organization and can be viewed in the below video:
From the forward to the new academic case study:
How Sac and Fox Native American, Jim Thorpe lost his Olympic gold medals and records from the 1912 Olympics is discussed in detail showing the part racism played. Despite this crushing blow to his life, Jim did not turn bitter, but went on to become a successful professional athlete in football and baseball, playing both each year for 16 years, and becoming the co-founder and first president of what is today the National Football League.
Following his unprecedented athletic career, he headed for a new life in Hollywood during the Great Depression, where he attacked inequities in the motion picture industry with his familiar determination, earning the sobriquet, “Akapamata,” meaning “Caregiver.”
In 1982, the Jim Thorpe Foundation, after discovering the official rules for the Stockholm Olympics which showed that Jim’s gold medals were illegally taken away were, with the help of U.S. Olympic Committee President, William Simon, able to convince the International Olympic Committee to reenter Jim’s records and give his family duplicate medals. However, today, Jim is still listed as a co-champion, not the sole champion.
The attention now in the U.S. is on overcoming the dysfunctional effects the boarding school system has caused. Interior Secretary Deb Halaand has launched a federal study of the boarding schools to address the historical trauma or soul wounds in an attempt to overcome the dysfunctionality they have caused. Fully correcting the egregious injustice done to Jim Thorpe would be a step toward healing one of the soul wounds perpetrated against Native Americans.
The full study, noting the role that boarding schools played in Thorpe’s situation, is titled “The Restoration of Jim Thorpe’s Sole Championships and the Healing of Indigenous Soul Wounds.” It’s available for download here.
The online petition to fully restore Thorpe’s medals currently has over 75k signatures.
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