Sometimes there’s some good news in this world

Then again, sometimes it takes 110 years to arrive:

Jim Thorpe, stripped of his 1912 gold medals because he’d been paid to play minor league baseball, was reinstated Thursday as the sole winner of that year’s Olympic decathlon and pentathlon by the International Olympic Committee.

This is an injustice that has simply been a fact of life for my entire life. A clear fact, which was clearly unfair.

Yep, Thorpe had been paid to play baseball. He was paid $2 a game. He did not know that would disqualify him from the Olympics, as he explained in a letter to the secretary of the Amateur Athletic Union:

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 …

Unlike the guys who played under the protection of pseudonyms, Thorpe wasn’t trying to hide anything, because he didn’t know there was anything to hide. But it was not excused, partly or in any other way. And he lost the glory that should have been his.

And now, long after his death, that has been rectified. I’m glad to see it, even though he isn’t around to experience it.

Does this mean I’m for paying college football players, or that I think it’s awesome to send professional “Dream Teams” to the Olympics? No, it doesn’t. Very different dynamics. I’m not an advocate of erasing amateurism. I’m just thinking about this one human being, who got jerked around over a tiny, technical and innocent mistake. And I’m glad the decision has been reversed.

Jim Thorpe played in good faith, and he won, because as King Gustav said, he was the greatest athlete in the world. And now we acknowledge that…

13 thoughts on “Sometimes there’s some good news in this world

  1. bud

    The absurdity of amateur athletes in big money sports like college football has gone the way of the odious blue laws. Good riddance. What sense does it make for a player to go unpaid while coaches, schools, vendors and tv broadcasters take in millions. It’s high time this anachronism from the gilded age ends.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, you’re being unfair to the Gilded Age. Back then, college sports were played by plain old college STUDENTS, and there was no “big money” involved.

      And THAT is the thing I would change, if only I knew how. I wouldn’t have the players share in the big money. I’d eliminate the big money.

      But until fans stop being insane and shelling out the big money, we’re kind of stuck.

      We’ve got so many LEVELS of crazy. It’s not just the cost of the game. There’s the cost of the related events, such as, say, Cockabooses and other spaces for tailgating.

      Twice during the campaign in 2018, we went to USC games to campaign at the tailgating. Those were two of the weirder experiences of my life, although it wasn’t as bad as I expected. For instance, each time, we left when the game started. So that was an upside…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Here is actual photographic evidence, although the lighting isn’t great.

        This is from inside an actual Cockaboose, on Sept. 1, 2018. And yes, we’re hanging with André Bauer. Not intentionally. We just ran into him.

        I told you tailgating was weird…

      2. bud

        We’ve got so many levels of crazy.

        Yep, but in a good way! Just thinking about the color and excitement of the coming college football season just gets my heart racing. The bands! The cheerleaders! The mascots! The huge throng of fans cheering as one! The best time of year is but weeks away. Sure it’s a massive indulgence of a game. But what a game! Juxtaposed against the bland ritual of MLB (ugh) football stands as a testament to the old saying that it’s always darkest before the dawn. But we have to be patient for a while longer. The growing expectation makes the coming sensory reward that much sweeter. Perhaps that is the purpose of baseball. Make us suffer through this most terrible of all sports so we can truly appreciate sports ecstacy.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You forgot to mention the brain damage!

          A little thing I put on Twitter this morning:


  2. Bart

    As a young boy, I read about Jim Thorpe and went to the movie about his life with Burt Reynolds playing the role of Thorpe. Just my humble opinion but I think the Olympic committee took his metals away because he was a Native American, an Indian who was perhaps one of the greatest athletes ever. He excelled at anything athletic he tried. At least his metals have been reinstated posthumously.

    Then we have Ira Hayes, a Native American who was one of the soldiers in the epic statue raising the American Flag on Iwo Jima. He never received the honors he deserved and once again, another Hollywood actor, Tony Curtis, played the role in the movie about his life.

    If either one had a movie or documentary about their lives done today, would a Native American get the part or another Hollywood actor who may “resemble” a member of each tribe? Ira Hayes, Pima, and Jim Thorpe, Sauk and Fox.

    Recently, the state of California returned property on the ocean that was literally stolen from the family back to the current generation of the black family members. Makes one wonder if at some point, the Native Americans whose land was stolen will ever be sufficiently compensated for the thief of their land and homes. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the destruction of ancient Native American burial mounds that were destroyed by the settlers and others who thought they were heathen and barbaric monuments. Wonder if the activists will ever acknowledge Andrew Jackson’s inhumane legislation he sponsored known as the Indian Removal Act, the basis of the “Trail of Tears” massacre due to the thousands who died on the forced march from the East coast to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of Iowa.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That same Burt Reynolds movie was how I first learned about Jim Thorpe when I was a kid. Although I think I saw it on TV rather than in a theater. It came out in 1951, and I didn’t make an appearance on this planet until two years later.

      But it made an impression. So years later, when my daughter was training in ballet in Carlisle, Pa., the first thing I wanted to do in that town was visit Carlisle Barracks and see where his career was launched.

      I was kind of disappointed. I finally found a statue of him in — appropriately enough — the Jim Thorpe Fitness Center. But it wasn’t a very good statue. (Apparently, there’s a better one about 100 miles away.) I didn’t find much else, but maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places….

        1. Bart

          Thanks bud.. not sure what I was thinking. No comparison, Lancaster was the perfect choice at the time. Wonder who would be chosen to portray Thorpe today.

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