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Press Release

New Research from The Doug Williams Center Supports Movement to Restore Jim Thorpe as the Sole Gold Medalist for his 1912 Olympic Victories

By December 13, 2021December 14th, 2021No Comments

Bright Path Strong urges the International Olympic Committee to fully reinstate Thorpe

December 13, 2021 – Sac and Fox and Potawatomi Native American, two-time Olympic gold medalist, the biggest star of what was to become the National Football League, and Major League Baseball player – all of these titles belong to one man. For over a century, the international sports sensation, Jim Thorpe, has been denied the full celebration of his accomplishments. In January 2022, a new research case study from The Doug Williams Center will support a petition to reinstate Thorpe as the sole gold medalist for the pentathlon and decathlon he decisively won in the 1912 Olympics.

To compose the case study, the Center partnered with Thorpe biographer, Bob Wheeler, and Dr. Florence Ridlon, co-founders of the Jim Thorpe Foundation and current honorary board members of Bright Path Strong, a nonprofit organization created in honor of Jim Thorpe to amplify authentic Native American voices, past and present. Their writing clarifies the widely unheard story of the part that racism played in stripping Jim, a world class athlete in 22 sports, of his rightful recognition.

Ridlon, a Technical Advisor, and Wheeler, an Executive Producer, for the forthcoming movie on Jim Thorpe stated that: “We have spent the last 50 years of our lives trying to correct the worst injustice in sports history – Jim Thorpe having his Olympic gold medals and records illegally taken away. In 1983, the International Olympic Committee, after great pressure and the threat of legal action, finally restored duplicate medals to Jim’s family and his name to their official record book but listed him as a co-champion. We are honored to have the opportunity that The Doug Williams Center has given us to provide a distinguished forum through which we can discuss the underlying racism behind the decision to strip Jim Thorpe of his awards and honors.”

“The deep-seated injustices we examined throughout Jim Thorpe’s career are an ominous reminder of the numerous wrongs against the Native American community that must be acknowledged and rectified. We are committed to telling his story and hopeful that this research will open the door for more solutions and healing in our nation,” said Brandon A. Logan, the Center’s Executive Director. “Bob Wheeler and Dr. Florence Ridlon have been actively researching Thorpe’s outstanding career for five decades. They are the optimal team to accompany DWC in telling the story of his significance with historical accuracy.”

According to the case study, Thorpe was illegally stripped of his Olympic 1912 pentathlon and decathlon medals all because of his ethnicity. In 1982, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized his achievements, but named him a “co-winner” of the gold in spite of his tripling the score of his nearest competitor in the pentathlon and winning the decathlon by 688 points. A grassroots effort led by Bright Path Strong is inspiring the proper recognition for Thorpe’s achievements includes a petition campaign, a feature motion picture, national media coverage, and working with the IOC representative to the U.S., Ms. Anita DeFrantz, who has publicly supported the full reinstatement of Jim Thorpe.

While Thorpe is well-known and celebrated in Native American Country, the Center’s leadership aims to make the research accessible to undo the wrongful erasure of his success, holding that as an American athlete, his acclaim should be accelerated for public consumption.

“Jim Thorpe was the ultimate competitor at a time when the playing field was anything but even. He fought racism and inequity, and as a Native American in 1912, he was not even recognized as a citizen of this country. Yet, Jim still overcame every obstacle with grace, dignity, and determination to become the greatest athlete in the world. The Doug Williams Center knows better than any organization what it means to combine the values Jim possessed with the qualities of a competitor when he competed at the turn of the century,” said Nedra Darling, co-founder, Bright Path Strong.  “We are thankful The Doug Williams Center recognizes what a travesty it is to continue to deny Jim Thorpe the justice he deserves, more than a century after these offenses occurred, and are grateful for their partnership and support.”

Darling is an Executive Producer of the forthcoming major motion film Bright Path, a story of Jim Thorpe’s time at the federally run Carlisle Indian Boarding School. She serves as an Advisor to the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team and is on the board of the Thompson Brothers’ 4THEFUTURE Foundation. Darling, a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, is a lifetime advocate of Thorpe’s legacy and will now partner with the Center to advance the cause.

The Doug Williams Center’s research on Thorpe will be made available for download at dougwilliamscenter.com in January 2022. For media inquiries, contact Raven Thissel at rthissel@dougwilliamscenter.com.

About The Doug Williams Center

Founded in 2020, The Doug Williams Center exists to build an ever-growing network of solutions for diversity and inclusion in collegiate and professional sports. The Center is a learning commons and advancement space for audiences to examine the history of race and politics in American sports and build holistic perspectives on the cultural impact to provide resources for ongoing social progress. With the support of its esteemed Advisory Board and multi-disciplinary academicians, the Center offers thought leadership and practical resources to sports industry entities. A hub for academic research and development, The Doug Williams Center is an affiliate of Grambling State University.

About Bright Path Strong

Bright Path Strong is an organization whose goal is to elevate American Indian voices so they may be heard by the general population.  The stress is on stories of resilience, strength, perseverance, and hope. Our first initiative is the full reinstatement of Jim Thorpe’s Olympic honors.

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