I was talking to spunky grandmother Grace Thorpe the other day. I had the honor to first meet Grace at the American Indians In The Media conference in Oklahoma a few years ago.
She is the daughter of famed Sac and Fox athlete Jim Thorpe who won the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. It is ironic to note that Thorpe was not even an actual citizen of the United States until 1917, yet he brought home two gold medals on which America held bragging rights.
Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic medals and awards in 1913 because he had played semi-pro baseball in the summers 1909 and 1910. Because of Grace's persistence, however, Thorpe's medals recently were returned. Then the family was devastated when the medals were stolen from a museum which had displayed them.
Despite these unfortunate setbacks, Grace continues to fight for causes on which she sets her heart. I admire her tenacity in fighting for Indian causes. Whenever there is a protest against Indian mascots, whenever there is environmental racism against Indian nations, you see Grace in the forefront of marchers and protesters, rallying the troops and speaking out in her forceful voice.
Grace's latest pitch to me was to help her "Jim Thorpe, Athlete of the Century," campaign. She is circulating a petition to proclaim Jim Thorpe America's Greatest All-Around Male Athlete and America's Greatest Football Player of the Century in the year 2000.
Again she is fighting an uphill battle. Operating her campaign out of a small office in her living room, she needs support, publicity and letters of support. With next to no funds available, she operates on a shoestring budget.
Never one to back down from a good fight, she recently helped writer Gregory Richards publish a book on her father entitled, "Jim Thorpe, World's Greatest Athlete."
Thorpe was the first U.S. athlete to win the decathlon and the only athlete in the world, to date, to win both the decathlon and the pentathlon during one Olympic year.
Thorpe's amateur football record began as a student at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where he was named Walter Camp's First Team All American Half-Back in 1911 and 1912. He was a founding father of professional football - the first elected president of the American Football Association, now the National Football League.
Thorpe also played major league baseball for 20 years with the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves, ending the 1919 season with a .327 average. He is the only American Athlete to excel as an amateur and as a professional in three major sports - track and field, football and baseball.
Supportive of Grace's dream to name Jim Thorpe Athlete of the Century is the fact he was named "Greatest American Football Player in History" in a 1977 national poll conducted by Sport Magazine. The Associated Press also named him America's Greatest All-Around Athlete and Greatest Football player of the half century in 1958.
John Madden, popular sports commentator, put Thorpe's name first when he selected his team of the millennium. Thorpe, whose Indian name is Wa Tha Huck or Bright Path, has taken his place in the National Indian Hall of Fame, the Helms Professional Football Hall of Fame, the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania and the Oklahoma halls of fame.
More than names on a petition are needed. Public recognition is paramount in selecting an outstanding athlete. Many athletes have the advantage of media attention at the peak of their careers or being mentioned in comparison to contemporaries. Thorpe was not that lucky. His memory needs our help.
We can contact our local sports reporters and provide them with information about Thorpe's accomplishments.
Thorpe may not be a household name, but with our help and Grace's determination, that can be corrected.
Anyone who would like to help Grace's cause may contact her at the Jim Thorpe Athlete of the Century Campaign office, 2213 W. Eighth Street. Prague, OK 74864. (Ans/Fax) 405-567-4297 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org