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Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe Kindle Edition
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Three are really four phases to Thorpe's life. The first being his upbringing on an Indian reservation and mostly left to run free and find his own fun and games. He was a very active outdoorsman which is a partial explanation for this developing into a phenomenal athlete. While unconventional, constantly running, jumping, hunting, and playing games certainly kept him active as a youth.
The second phase was his stint at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Once his talents were shaped at Carlyle he became not only a world class athlete, but THE world class athlete.
The third phase was his time as a professional athlete. After leaving Carlisle, Thorpe played both professional baseball and football, but football is where he really made his name and become one of the all-time greats in that sport. In fact, he was part of the founding class of athletes who established football as a professional sport and was among the first class enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the time professional football was frowned upon by many but it was a way that Thorpe could continue this athletic career and really the only skill he had to make money.
The fourth phase of his life was his post-athletic career, which for the most part could be called vagabond. He suffered through failed marriages, mostly his own fault, was most estranged from his children, suffered from alcoholism, and was often financial broke. He did manage to parlay his name into many a career as a bit actor in Hollywood playing the role of an Indian in Westerns, and eventually stood up for the rights of Indians to get jobs sometimes going to others (as long as they could pass for Native American) and equal pay with white actors.
One could say that he struggled with is post-Carlisle life because he became used to the structure and loose discipline Carlisle afforded him, and as a pampered athlete mostly had everything taken care of for him. He never really learned true applicable skills there outside athletics, or even personal skills such as money management. Thus his late adult life was often a struggle.
Finally there is the bizarre story of how Thorpe came to be buried in Thorpe, Pennsylvania with his ex-wife basically selling his remains to the town which renamed itself after him. His family is currently in court trying to have his remains returned for burial in Oklahoma. But you can't beat having a town named after you and a beautiful memorial. Maybe he should just be allowed to stay there.
This is a superb biography, and very fascinating look at one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Among the questions left unanswered for this reader are these, at a minimum: a) did Jim Thorpe continue to train as an athlete in his later years? We are informed that in middle age he could still punt a football 75 yards. Whence cometh this persisting athletic prowess? The reader is left to guess. b) could Jim Thorpe rightly be classified as an alcoholic? This question is likely not relevant to the story line, but there is never a hint given that Thorpe might have sought treatment for any malady related to his consumption of alcohol. The biography does relate how Jim bought and sold not a few bars and restaurants after his athletic glory days were over.
In some ways this seems like a kind of travelogue of Jim Thorpe's life where the reader is left to find the underlying "meta-narrative." The author does not delve very deeply into what Jim may have thought of himself. Maybe there is no residual evidence. Toward the start of the book the author reports that Jim called himself 5/8 Indian, but does not explore the cultural ramifications of this claim. To use language sometimes applied to Jesus Christ and the Christian view of the atonement, it seems like Jim Thorpe was both victor and victim.
I will not be returning to this volume, and likely will not read another Thorpe biography. The best tidbits in this volume are some of the contemporary news clippings the author unearthed. Some of these analyses of Jim in his athletic glory are memorable, for example the contrast between Jim's football running style, and a conventional baseball running style.
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