Jim Thorpe

LOS ANGELES, Calif.Pictureworks Entertainment, the National Congress of American Indians, and several of Jim Thorpe’s descendants aannounced Wednesday the launch of “Take Back What Was Stolen,” an initiative to restore Thorpe’s status as the sole gold medal champion of the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.

It was 108 years ago today, July 15, 1913, when Thorpe (Sac and Fox, Potawatomi) was awarded two Olympic gold medals at the Stockholm Olympic Games. 

The next year after his Olympic victory,  the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped Thorpe of his two gold medals and struck his name from the Olympic history books. Thorpe set incredible records in track and field.

The heavy-handed IOC measures came about because of a smear campaign that revealed he played minor league baseball prior to the 1912 Summer Games. Between 1909 and 1910, Thorpe was compensated for room and board. At the time, this was an infraction under IOC rules, which barred Olympians from participating in any sports for pay so that they could be classified as amateurs during competition. Throughout subsequent decades, Thorpe’s children and biographer Robert Wheeler and his wife Florence Ridlon convinced the IOC in the 1980s to reinstate his gold medal status. They eventually succeeded and his children were presented with duplicate gold medals in 1983.

However, the IOC did not go far enough. They neglected to restore Thorpe’s records and relegated him to co-champion––the silver winners, the athletes he’d previously beaten, had their silver medals elevated to gold when Thorpe was stripped of his remarkable achievements. The IOC allowed those athletes to keep their golds. 

The “Take Back What Was Stolen” petition calls for the IOC to make things right, to take the necessary steps to correct history and restore Thorpe’s proper status as the sole gold medalist in both the decathlon and pentathlon.

The petition and signatures will serve to support the resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last November by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, to compel the IOC to correct the Olympic records set by Thorpe.

“This petition is an effort to gather over one million names and voices united in support of Jim and American athletic excellence, and Native American resilience,” said Nedra Darling, executive producer of Pictureworks Entertainment. “In a time where Americans, and arguably people all around the world, are confronting their long-held, discriminatory beliefs and behaviors, this is a tremendous opportunity for the IOC to get on the right side of history.”

The petition is part of a series of initiatives tied to “Bright Path,” the upcoming feature film chronicling Thorpe’s life and legacy from Pictureworks Entertainment.

Actor Martin Sensmeier (Tlingit, Koyukon-Athabasca)has been tapped to play the lead role of Thorpe in “Bright Path.”

The Tuolumne Band of Mewuk Indians, Mohegan Tribe, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Tonto Apache Tribe, the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, the Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Me-wuk Indians of California, Sealaska Corporation, and Shingle Springs of Miwok Indians have partnered with Pictureworks Entertainment on “Bright Path.” 

You can sign the petition here.

Support Independent Indigenous Journalism

Native News Online is an independent, Indigenous-led newsroom with a crucial mission:  We want to change the narrative about Indian Country. We do this by producing intelligent, fact-based journalism that tells the full story from all corners of Indian Country.  We pride ourselves on covering the tribes you may have never heard of before and by respecting and listening to the communities we serve through our reporting. As newsrooms across the country continue to shrink, coverage of Indian Country is more important than ever, and we are committed to filling this ever-present hole in journalism.

Because we believe everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities, the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. But we hope it inspires you to make a gift to Native News Online so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount, big or small, gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. 
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi Rickert
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. He can be reached at [email protected]