Jim Thorpe is an American icon. His involvement in baseball, American football, and athletics, showed the athletic talent he possessed. The sad issue is how he was treated, and how many people tried to manipulate him, in life and death.
This is the first piece on Jim Thorpe, by Jeff Benjamin.
Jim Thorpe, photo, Olympics.org
“BRIGHT PATH STRONG -The Resiliency Of Jim Thorpe”
The First In A Series Of Pieces On Jim Thorpe, whose life and legacy will soon be presented in an upcoming Hollywood film!
By Jeff Benjamin
“Sport is the most potent social worker in any community”
These are the words of Olympic legend, World Athletics Leader and newly-appointed International Olympic Committee Member Sebastian Coe.
For movie producer Abraham Taylor, Sport has had the unique mystique of captivating and wrapping itself around him, as his decade-long journey has now led him to presenting a message of inspiration, hope and justice in the figure of the Legendary Jim Thorpe.
Taylor’s journey, like Thorpe’s, has not been easy.
“It has been like pushing a boulder up the mountain.”
In some sense, Taylor’s feelings and challenges mirror his subject.
Thorpe, a turn-of the 20th century Native American SAC AND FOX (he was born two years before the Wounded Knee Massacre, the last of the “Indian Wars”) wound up like many Native-American children of the era at an “assimilation” school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one of a few he had attended but not “dropped out” of.
However, under the guidance of “Pop” Warner, Thorpe and Carlisle would amaze the country in the newly created game of American Football, and there was no one better than Thorpe.
His athletic exploits would rocket him into the 1912 U.S. Olympic Team where, in Stockholm, Thorpe would totally dominate the Pentathlon and Decathlon, shocking the Swedes and also leading King Gustav (V) of Sweden to say to Thorpe at his awards presentation, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete who ever lived.”
That fame would fall apart as Thorpe would eventually be stripped of his Olympic awards due to his violations of the so-called Amateur code. Thorpe had played semi-professional baseball prior to Stockholm and was “paid” in today’s money around $30 a game, which wound up mostly in the hands of Warner and others.
First pursuing baseball (He played in the Major Leagues for John McGraw’s NY Giants) and then returning to football, he co-founded the NFL and was the League’s first President. (the NFL MVP trophy was at one time named for him) Thorpe moved around (recent discoveries show that he engaged in a kind of professional basketball as well!) and even got into film work in Hollywood, later on gaining the friendship of Burt Lancaster, who portrayed Thorpe in the 1951 classic, “The Jim Thorpe Story.” During that time Lancaster fought Hollywood Execs for Thorpe to be allowed to not only consult on the film, but get paid as well. Thorpe died in 1953 of heart failure.
At the time of his death, almost all sports experts and correspondents labeled Thorpe as the “Greatest Athlete of All-Time.”
This narrative above, especially the influence of the movie, are what has molded many for generations, including Taylor.
When he initially pursued this film project, it was going to be “about ‘Pop’ Warner and early American football,” said Taylor, a Utah native and BYU graduate who, like many students in America, was taught the mainly positive themes in American History.
However, the Thorpe-Like seismic shift for Taylor occurred when, in researching for a rewrite of the film, he visited the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. What he found was nowhere near the atmosphere or conditions portrayed in the Lancaster film.
Coming across the graves of 122 Native-American students on the grounds of all ages, no doubt victims of disease and who knows what else, “changed the way I saw the world,” said Taylor.
Most striking to him was one particular grave. “My parents had named me for Abraham Lincoln,” said Taylor. “I came across this one particular grave of “ABE Lincoln Son of Antelope Cheyenne” who was a child at the school and something broke in me.”
“After all,” said Taylor, “it was obvious that his parents didn’t name him that but the school did!”
From this encounter, Taylor started to learn about the injustices, racism and brutally forceful assimilation inflicted upon Native-Americans. Speaking with others, including Olympic Legend and Native-American Icon Billy Mills, “I realized everything had to be changed about this film,” said Taylor.
“Thorpe and the others were forced to lose their culture, religion, language in schools like Carlisle,” said Taylor. “The goal was to annihilate that family relationship and permanently break that bond!”
“Native-Americans were called a “Ward of the State” which was essentially a POW (Prisoner of War) at a school like Carlisle.”
In that tough world of Hollywood, getting Execs, Producers, Directors and other powers on board is probably no easy task, but Taylor, almost Thorpe-Like, persevered in his beliefs about portraying a movie about social justice and a revisionism of Thorpe, Carlisle,and the Native Americans. “I felt compelled to do so.”
And it has paid off.
“Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story” by Pictureworks Entertainment is moving ahead, slowly but surely, and it has some big names associated with it.
Along with Taylor, Angelina Jolie, Todd Black and Sportsman/Producer Steve Tisch are on board, along with THE Jim Thorpe Legacy Guardian and Biography Author Robert Wheeler.
Native American Kyle Kauwika Harris is one of the writers and Martin Sensmeier will be portraying Jim Thorpe.
It was actually due to Wheeler and wife Florence Ridlon’s Herculean efforts that Thorpe’s medals were restored to his family in 1983, but even that has ended in controversy.
“Jim Thorpe’s family did get the medals back,” said Taylor. “But the IOC never changed the 1912 record books and Jim is still not recognized for the Champion he was.”
“It’s time to correct these wrongs,” said Taylor as the movie will also focus on Thorpe’s Olympic Greatness, combining the themes of racism and the prejudice of the era, which sadly resonate to this day.
“It’s impossible to appreciate all that Jim Thorpe has done and what he faced,” said Taylor.
“But we are ready for the task!”
Spoken like a true athlete.
Bell Lap –
-For more information on the film please go to
– A petition for the reinstatement of Jim Thorpe into the official IOC record books can be found here at
– Robert Wheeler’s paramount Jim Thorpe biography is getting a reissue soon BUT if you wish to purchase a copy now check out
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