Tramel's ScissorTales: Jim Thorpe's Olympic records finally restored to 1912 status
When the news came, Anita Thorpe thought of her dad. Richard Thorpe and his siblings, the children of Jim Thorpe, fought for decades to have their father’s Olympic records restored.
“They were the first people I thought of,” Anita Thorpe said. “What would my dad say? What would my uncles and aunts say? I can’t even imagine.”
The International Olympic Committee announced Friday it was restoring the initial, official results of the 1912 decathlon and pentathlon competitions. Jim Thorpe, born in 1887 Indian Territory as part of the Sac and Fox Nation, raised amid the countryside of Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties, once again is the Stockholm Olympics’ sole gold medalist in those events.
“We’re all just so happy,” said Anita Thorpe, Jim Thorpe’s 55-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Shawnee. “It’s 110 years in the making.”
Friday is the 110-year anniversary of Thorpe’s Olympic decathlon victory, which prompted Swedish King Gustav V to tell Thorpe during closing ceremonies “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”
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Soon enough, Thorpe was hailed during a ticker-tape parade in New York, and he was an American hero every bit as much as modern superstars.
But Thorpe’s status came crashing down a few months later after it was discovered that over two summers, 1909 and 1910, he had been paid about $2 a game or $35 a week to play minor league baseball for the Rocky Mount Railroaders of the Eastern Carolina League.
The United States’ Amateur Athletic Union stripped Thorpe of his amateur status and the IOC stripped Thorpe of his records and medals.
In many ways, the Thorpe/Olympic story was the first major international sports scandal.
Thorpe, already a college football star for Carlisle Indian School, soon enough signed a baseball contract with the New York Giants and ended up playing six seasons in the major leagues. Thorpe also played pro football for the Canton Bulldogs and in 1920 was the foundational star of the new American Professional Football Association, which became the National Football League.
A massive statue of Thorpe is the first thing to greet visitors at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
But the Olympic defrocking plagued Thorpe for much of his troubled life. He had difficulty staying employed outside athletics, financial problems were constant, and when Thorpe died in 1953 at age 65, his third wife sold his body to two towns in Pennsylvania, West Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, which combined under the name Jim Thorpe and tried to establish the town as a tourist destination.
For decades, Thorpe’s family has fought to have his remains returned to Oklahoma, to no avail, including a U.S. Supreme Court defeat in 2015.
But the campaign to restore Thorpe’s Olympic legacy has been more successful, with the Thorpe family, Native American organizations, the state of Oklahoma and private enterprises banding together.
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The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame was founded almost 40 years ago as the Jim Thorpe Association.
“It’s an overwhelming amount of pride, but really not for us,” said Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame executive director Mike James. “Nothing that we’re hanging our hat on, if you will, but the Thorpe family, his legacy, that wrong has been righted.”
In 1982, the International Olympic Committee returned Thorpe’s medals, and he was listed as co-winner of the decathlon and pentathlon.
But that was a 40-year bastardization of actual events.
King Gustav V, American sports fans of six generations and the Thorpe family knew and know who was the world’s greatest athlete.
Bright Path Strong, a Native-led, non-profit dedicated to honoring Thorpe through community service, started a petition a few years ago to restore the Olympics record.
Thorpe’s Native name, “Wa-Tho-Huk,” translates to Bright Path.
And indeed, the IOC followed that path Friday.
“We welcome the fact that, thanks to the great engagement of Bright Path Strong, a solution could be found,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “This is a most exceptional and unique situation, which has been addressed by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the National Olympic Committees concerned.”
Bright Path and IOC member Anita DeFrantz had contacted the Swedish Olympic Committee and the family of Hugo Wieslander, who in 1913 had been elevated to gold medalist in the decathlon.
"They confirmed that Wieslander himself had never accepted the Olympic gold medal allocated to him, and had always been of the opinion that Jim Thorpe was the sole legitimate Olympic gold medalist,” the IOC said in a statement. “The same declaration was received from the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, whose athlete, Ferdinand Bie, was named as the gold medalist when Thorpe was stripped of the pentathlon title.”
Quite the magnanimous gestures by the Swedes and the Norwegians. And the world governing body of track and field also has agreed to amend the records.
“Our agenda and mission is to keep his memory alive,” Anita Thorpe said.
Richard Thorpe died in 2020 at age 87. He had been the last remaining of Jim Thorpe’s eight children.
Bill Thorpe, Richard’s older brother, had died just a couple of months earlier. At the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award banquet, which annually honors college football’s best defensive back, Bill Thorpe told me the award helps keep his dad’s name alive.
“I know each year it kind of fades,” Bill Thorpe said, “then comes back with the award.”
But Bill Thorpe was wrong. Jim Thorpe’s name does not fade. It lives strong in Canton, Ohio, and in Oklahoma, and now, forever, where it was written 110 years ago. In the Olympic record books.
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Can the Big 12 become hip?
Conference realignment consumed all the buzz with new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark on Wednesday at Big 12 Media Days. But Yormark – known for his work with NASCAR, the Brooklyn Netropolitans and Jay-Z's Roc Nation – had other interesting things to say.
Starting with this. Part of his mission is to bring younger fans to the Big 12.
“Hip” is the word he used, and the Big 12 is about the least hip thing you can think of. Of course, what is “hip”? This isn’t 1969. Groovy has gone out of style. What exactly does “hip” look like?
Yormark offered no specifics, perhaps because he doesn’t know any specifics. Outside of talking to potential Pac-12 expansion targets, introductory phone calls with athletic directors and football coaches, and two days of getting himself acclimated to the Big 12 staff, Yormark officially hasn’t even started his duties yet.
But Yormark did talk about the general trend of what he wants to bring to the Big 12.
He said outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby “has positioned the brand in a great way, but I think there's opportunities, as I learn a little bit more about the brand and our fan base, to become a little bit more national, to position our brand a little younger, hipper, cooler.”
I don’t know anything about branding or marketing. I know winning big would help more than anything, but I also know that smart people can move the masses with the right kind of messaging.
“How do we connect a youth culture, diversify some of the things we're doing?” Yormark asked. “And I think we have a great opportunity to do that.
“I've been in the brand-building business and the business-building business in my days at NASCAR, where we took a sport from predominantly the South and where the roots were, and made it a national phenomenon.
“Obviously in Brooklyn, we moved the team from the Nets, which was a bit of a depressed brand and franchise, and made it into a global brand. My goal is to do something very similar here, and I'm excited about it, and I'm excited to go to work.”
Yarmark used the term “more contemporary" conference. What exactly does that mean?
“Again, I think there's opportunities to use social media maybe a little bit more different, engage with our fans,” Yormark said. “I want to use content to help us with our storytelling. I think that's truly important.
“I think when future student-athletes of this conference are thinking about where do they want to go next, as they're making those decisions what schools to go to, I want our brand to be aspirational. I want them to say, I want to go to the Big 12 for all the right reasons. And collectively with the group at the conference office, our goal is to do just that. I'm very excited about it. I think there's a real opportunity.”
This is all foreign territory to the Big 12. Field teams, hire coaches, build facilities, win games. Rinse and repeat. That’s mostly the Big 12’s branding.
That’s not how the music industry operates, and it’s really not how the NBA operates or how NASCAR operated in its heyday.
“There are similarities in how you build a brand, generally speaking,” Yormark said. “But I need to spend a little bit more time with the staff, get a better understanding of some of the data points.
“I know the conference has done a bit of a brand study, which I need to dive into. They've outsourced that exercise. But I think, again, very similar to what I've done in my past, there's an opportunity to nationalize this brand, to be more aspirational, to appeal to youth culture, to get younger and hipper, and those are the things I'll be working on.”
Best of luck, Commissioner. It’s a hard sell.
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Turnovers plague Thunder
NBA Summer League 2022 has been grand fun for Oklahomans. The Thunder has played six games – three in Salt Lake City, three in Las Vegas – and been playing with a bunch of guys who will matter when the 2022-23 seasons tips off in October.
Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren have played five games each. So have Aaron Wiggins and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. And rookies Ousmane Dieng and Arkansas Jaylin Williams. Santa Clara Jalen Williams has played all six games. Tre Mann and Lindy Waters III have played four each. Aleksej Pokusevski has played three.
Summer League isn’t half bad when you’ve got a bunch of talented rookies and second-year players who figure to fill out the regular-season rotation.
But while the Thunder is 4-2, the quality of play has been shaky. Too many turnovers. Way too many turnovers.
In six games, the Thunder has 101 turnovers. OKC opponents have 100.
That’s Summer League, for you. Most players struggle as the competition gets more physical. They tend to adapt quickly, but not quickly enough to smooth out the summer games.
But even the players with some NBA experience are loose with the ball.
Giddey averaged 3.2 turnovers a game last season and 3.6 turnovers per 36 minutes. In Summer League, Giddey has averaged 4.4 turnovers per game.
Mann averaged 1.2 turnovers last season. He’s averaging 2.7 in Summer League.
Giddey seems to be experimenting, learning to play with Holmgren. Giddey doesn’t seem overly concerned with ball protection and maybe we shouldn’t be, either. Still, you’d rather see Giddey with a little possession security.
Holmgren, at 7-foot-1 and apparently intent on proving he’s a ballhandler, has committed 14 turnovers in five games. That’s to be expected. He’s got a steep learning curve as he tries to get tougher with the ball, at 195 pounds.
Some of the other rookies have struggled, too. Arkansas Williams has committed 10 turnovers in five games. Santa Clara Williams has 10 in six games, including two three-turnover games. Ousmane Dieng has eight in five games. And outside of Santa Clara, that’s with moderate minutes.
But some of the veterans haven’t been too bad. Wiggins has four turnovers in five games. Robinson-Earl has three in five games. Waters has one in four games.
But Poku has eight in three games.
Summer League is not a place to hone skills. Not a place to refine your game. Summer League is a place to learn how rugged is the river. The physicality and pace and timing required to survive, not necessarily to succeed.
That comes later.
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The List: Big 12 coaches by age
When the Big 12’s Yormark said the conference needs to get more hip, he wasn’t talking about his football coaches. But Yormark could have been.
Four Big 12 schools have hired head coaches in the last 15 months. All four are in their 50s: OU’s Brent Venables, Kansas’ Lance Leopold, Texas Tech’s Joey McGuire and Texas Christian’s Sonny Dykes.
In fact, six of the Big 12’s head coaches are at least half a century old. Here are the 10 coaches, ranked by age:
1. Lance Leopold, Kansas, 58: Leopold was hired by KU a week before his 57th birthday, after a distinguished career that included big success at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo.
2. Mike Gundy, OSU, 54: Gundy was a Cowboy assistant coach at age 22, head coach at age 36 and now he’s the dean of the conference, about to enter his 18th season as head coach.
3. Chris Klieman, Kansas State, 54: Klieman is 46 days younger than Gundy, but Klieman was 51 when he got his shot at K-State, after big-time success at North Dakota State.
4. Sonny Dykes, TCU, 52: Dykes was 40 when he became head coach at Louisiana Tech, and since he’s also coached California and Southern Methodist.
5. Brent Venables, OU, 51: Venables seems eternally young, but after at least a decade of playing or coaching at each of Kansas State, OU and Clemson, Venables got his own program two weeks before turning 51.
6. Joey McGuire, Texas Tech, 50: McGuire was 45 years old and the head coach at Cedar Hill High School south of Dallas. But at age 50, he became head coach at Tech.
7. Steve Sarkisian, Texas, 48: Sark was 47 when hired by UT, but he was head coach at Washington at age 34 and also was head coach at Southern Cal.
8. Dave Aranda, Baylor, 45: Aranda was 43 when the Bears made him a first-time head coach.
9. Matt Campbell, Iowa State, 42: Campbell was 32 when hired as head coach at Toledo and 36 when the Cyclones came calling.
10. Neal Brown, West Virginia, 42: Another prodigy, Brown was head coach at Troy by age 34. Four years later, the Mountaineers hired him at age 38.
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Mailbag: Big 12 scheduling format
The Big 12 scheduling format for beyond 2022 remains unknown. But people are interested.
Ron: “Do you have any current intelligence on divisional alignment and potential schedules at this point in time?”
Tramel: No. But it seems rather clear that divisions are a likely no-go. Everyone else is scrapping them – the Pac-12 has, the Atlantic Coast Conference will and the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference are talking about it and almost certainly will choose that direction.
It doesn’t help divisions’ cause that there’s no clear geographic path to Big 12 divisions, unless you want to put Brigham Young with OSU and the Texas schools, and that’s still a stretched-out division – 1,433 miles from Provo, Utah, to Houston.
I assume the Big 12 will go without divisions and adopt permanent rivalries – perhaps three per year, with every other league member rotating through the schedule. That would mean teams would play three annual opponents, then would play the other eight opponents in the league on a rotating basis.
With a nine-game conference schedule, that would mean playing every league opponent at least six times over an eight-year span.
Of course, with a 14-team league, which the Big 12 figures to be in 2023 and perhaps 2024, that could all change. And if the Big 12 expands with some Pac-12 defectors, a 16-team league would require another plan.
I’ll write about the options soon.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Jim Thorpe's 1912 Olympic records restored to their rightful place