July 29, 2020 Denver, Colo.— The American Indian College Fund is supporting the movement, which includes a resolution introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), to compel the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to posthumously restore the sole 1912 gold medal champion record for the decathlon and pentathlon to Native American athlete and icon Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was stripped of the records for violating amateur rules, which many say was motivated by racism. By correcting the record, the College Fund believes the IOC will create a level playing field for all athletes while restoring Thorpe’s rightful place in sports history. This action will send a powerful message to Native youth that their people, cultures, and histories are valued.
Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe whose Native name Wa-Tho-Huk means Bright Path, spent ten years in government-run boarding schools designed to strip Native youth of their language and culture. While he was a student at the federal government-run Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Thorpe was sent to play summer baseball in the Carolina leagues to keep him in shape for conscripted labor during the school year (the school hired out Native students for manual labor with neighboring white families). While playing baseball, Thorpe was paid a small stipend that barely covered his room and board.
After Thorpe competed in the 1912 Olympics, winning the pentathlon and decathlon (and competing in one of the events in the decathlon with mismatched shoes he found in the trash after his shoes were stolen), the IOC discovered Thorpe had been paid for his room and board while playing baseball in the Carolina leagues, and stripped him of his medals and record. In 1912 IOC rules barred athletes from receiving pay in sports to be eligible for the Olympics. Thorpe was not permitted to defend himself.
Thorpe’s family and supporters led efforts to determine the rules that forced the IOC’s decision. His accomplishments were reinstated in the official Olympic record book, and his children were presented with duplicate gold medals in 1983. However, Thorpe’s reinstatement was as a “co-champion” rather than sole winner, despite him having earned scores that far exceeded those of his competitors.
David Bledsoe, Student Engagement and Communications Manager at the American Indian College Fund, spoke with Colorado Matters at Colorado Public Radio (CPR) for their on-air story, “Working To ‘Take Back What Was Stolen’ From Olympian Jim Thorpe,” about the importance of restoring Thorpe’s record to the Native American students. “Having the record be reflective of the actual truth is very important,” he said. Bledsoe shared that public opinion and perspective along with historical trauma and high rates of poverty can have a compounding effect on Native youth—a group whose suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average and the highest across all ethnic and racial groups.
The public can add their signatures to a petition to restore Thorpe’s record and medals on Bright Path Strong’s web site at brightpathstrong.com. Petition signatures will support the resolution introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland to compel the IOC to correct Thorpe’s Olympic record.
About the American Indian College Fund—Founded in 1989, the American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 30 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $7.72 million in scholarships to 3,900 American Indian students in 2018-19, with nearly 137,000 scholarships and community support totaling over $221.8 million since its inception. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.
Reporters: The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.