2012 Bison Books paperback edition

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Who Was Jim Thorpe?

OK. I'm deep into the last day of the so-called first pass of the Thorpe manuscript (it's actually the next-to-last proof). So, here's a really quickie summary of why Thorpe was so great in sports: 

An American Indian (Potawatomi; Sac and Fox) from Oklahoma who was arguably the greatest American athlete of modern times. 
He played sports in the early decades of the twentieth century, just as they were emerging as the activities that would become passions for millions. Thorpe was so good at so many games and athletic activities, he became the  the gold standard of athletic achievement.

In those early days, there was no emphasis on specializing in one sport, which freed Thorpe to excel in several.
  • A remarkable All-America running back for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team who -- playing before official statistics and against teams such as Harvard, Penn, and Army -- may have been the game's first 2,000-yard rusher. Sports Illustrated said he would have won the Heisman in 1911 and 1912, if the award had existed back then.
  • The first international celebrity athlete: the winner, by huge margins, of gold medals for both the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm -- the only athlete to ever win both events.
  • A major and minor league baseball player for twelve seasons who, by 1919 for the Boston Braves, hit as well (.327) as Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson. 
  • The professional football icon who put the pro sport on the map -- and whose statue is the first thing you see today when you enter the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.