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Archive for the ‘A Take on the Jim Thorpe Controversy’ Category

On the face of it, this seems quite simple: the aggrieved sons of Jim Thorpe would like his father’s remains repatriated to Oklahoma from a little town in Pennsylvania that he likely never visited.

Surely, this is simply a family issue, and there must be some heinous exploitative intent here. This part of the story is the only part that news articles (and even stories from outlets like NPR) have covered. Even Keith Olbermann (who I otherwise personally admire) joins the chorus of the outraged.

Jim ThorpeI don’t want to join the usual throng of media bashers, but they never report that there is another half of Jim Thorpe’s family that inconveniently doesn’t want him moved. It never reports that while Jim Thorpe’s three daughters were alive, they became big boosters of the town and visited it often.

It wasn’t until the daughters died, that the issue of where he should be buried reared its head again. It is as if the part of the family that remained is waving and shouting from behind soundproof glass, while the press conveniently looks the other way.

The notion that his body was being “shopped” around and ultimately came here is hard to believe. If he was simply going to the highest bidder, then why would this town have won the supposed sweepstakes? It was virtually penniless in the 1950’s (and 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s …). If it was that crass, then why wouldn’t he have been buried in the center of town, where everyone would see his mausoleum, and burgers and drinks could be named after him?

Instead, his memorial is on the east side of town, all the way up the hill on the way out of town, in a place where he is actually honored, where ceremonies take place on his birthday.

You’ll never find a burger or drink with his name attached to it. This is exploitation? The way the story is typically told, it is loaded with irony, but there are many questions like these that never see the light of day.

Here is a note to me from John Thorpe, a grandson currently residing in Lake Tahoe, California:

..you (the town of Jim Thorpe, PA) are doing the right thing!… My friend’s name is Spirit Wolf of the Standing Buffalo Nation, Lakota Sioux. He holds the same position now as Crazy Horse did in his time with the tribe. He believes my Grandfather is at rest…

A more detailed look at how another family member feels is contained in this letter written to Carbon County Magazine by Mike Koehler, a grandson who was appointed by Grace Thorpe, Jim Thorpe’s daughter, to be the spokesman for the family after she passed away.

He explains his relationship to Jim Thorpe and the side of the family he comes from. He goes on to say that the legal arguments themselves don’t conform to the wishes of at least half the family and appear to stand on shaky legal ground at best. Jim THorpe

John Thorpe explained to me that he would be attending The Sundance Native American Gathering in Texas towards the end of July and that various tribal elders would be weighing in on the matter with the goal of reaching a conclusion. In effect, he says, the issue has long since transcended the status of family matter to one that affects all Native Americans.

Quite simply, Koehler has said that if Jack Thorpe had actually visited the town (as his sisters did, many times) and met the people involved with keeping Thorpe’s memory alive, there would never have been a dispute in the first place.

I’ve made these seemingly relevant aspects of the story very much available to the press that has contacted me, but somehow it doesn’t seem to find its way into the actual reporting. In fact, one major newspaper lamely indicated to me that it was left out because of “space limitations.”

But it just isn’t as attention-getting or heart-rending a story when you tell all of it. Then there would be none of that smirky irony.

Personally, in my opinion, one of the very few journalistically fair articles I’ve read is here, by the Associated Press.

I do understand that article real estate in major papers is expensive, but it’s hard to square that with the press’ supposed responsibility to give the public at least an arm wave attempt to tell the whole story. What I’m describing here aren’t just wrinkles or a nuances, I think it’s fair to call them glaring omissions, journalistically at least.

At least that’s what half of the Jim Thorpe family would say, if that matters to anyone.

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Clearly the whole Jim Thorpe controversy is a story with legs. For one thing it’s been going on for years. For another, it illustrates that there are at least 2 basic sides to the story, with one receiving very little coverage.

Jim Thorpe Statue

Statue at the Jim Thorpe Memorial

So HBO is in town recording some interviews at the Opera House with people who weigh in on various aspects of the story and seem to be attempting a more complete survey of the facts of the matter.

The basic facts, of course, are that son Jack Thorpe would like his father’s body to be repatriated to his home state of Oklahoma. Another half of the family is adamantly opposed to this, saying that Jim Thorpe has been appropriately honored by this community for over 50 years.

They’ve even sent the eminent Frank Deford to conduct some of the interviews, himself basically the Jim Thorpe of sportswriters, with a weekly program on NPR and a long career as Sports Illustrated senior writer.

Frank Deford interview at the Mauch Chunk Opera House

Frank Deford Interview at the Mauch Chunk Opera House

Our understanding is that the program will air on September 23 as part of a Bryant Gumbel show, but you might want to confirm that.

Though we’re sure the community would respond graciously no matter what the outcome of the controversy, we are also hopeful that this program might actually provide a more complete reporting of the story.

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On the face of it, this seems quite simple: the aggrieved son of Jim Thorpe would like his father’s remains repatriated to Oklahoma from a little town in Pennsylvania that his father likely never visited. This part of the story is the only part that news articles (and even stories from outlets like NPR) have covered, in part because there is the easy irony that media outlets love..

Jim ThorpeNot to be a media basher, but it is almost never reported that it turns out there is another part of Jim Thorpe’s family that inconveniently doesn’t want him moved. It is as if they are waving and shouting from behind soundproof glass while the press looks the other way.

The notion that his body was being “shopped” around and ultimately came here is hard to believe. If he was simply going to the highest bidder, then how would this town have won the supposed sweepstakes? After all, the town of Mauch Chunk, PA was virtually penniless in the 1950’s (and 60’s, 70’s, 80’s,90’s …).

If it was all really that crass, then why wouldn’t he have been buried in the center of town, so that he could be exploited properly, and burgers and drinks could be named after him? After all, it was a decrepit town then, and people were desperately searching for ways to lift themselves up.

But instead, his memorial is on the east side of town, all the way up the hill on the way out of town, in a place where he is actually honored, where ceremonies take place on his birthday. The way the story is typically told, it is loaded with irony, but the real questions never see the light of day.

The other inconvenient fact, is that while Jim Thorpe’s daughters were alive, they were big supporters of their father being memorialized here. In fact, Grace and Charlotte Thorpe used to visit once a year when we would celebrate Jim Thorpe’s birthday.

We never heard from the brothers. Then the daughters died – the last, Grace, passed away in 2012.

Here is a note to me from John Thorpe, a grandson currently residing in Lake Tahoe, California:

..you (the town of Jim Thorpe, PA) are doing the right thing!… My friend’s name is Spirit Wolf of the Standing Buffalo Nation, Lakota Sioux. He holds the same position now as Crazy Horse did in his time with the tribe. He believes my Grandfather is at rest…

A more detailed look at how another family member feels is contained in this letter written to Carbon County Magazine by Mike Koehler, a grandson who was appointed by Grace Thorpe, Jim Thorpe’s daughter, to be the spokesman for the family after she passed away last year.

He explains his relationship to Jim Thorpe and the side of the family he comes from. He goes on to say that the legal arguments themselves don’t conform to the wishes of at least half the family and appear to stand on shaky legal ground at best. Jim THorpe

John Thorpe explained to me that he would be attending The Sundance Native American Gathering in Texas towards the end of July and that various tribal elders would be weighing in on the matter with the goal of reaching a conclusion. In effect, he says, the issue has long since transcended the status of family matter to one that affects all Native Americans.

Quite simply, Mike Koehler has said that if Jack Thorpe had actually visited the town (as his sisters did) and met the people involved with keeping Thorpe’s memory alive, there would never have been a dispute in the first place.

I’ve made these seemingly relevant aspects of the story very much available to the press that has contacted me, but somehow it never seems to find its way into the narrative. In fact, one major newspaper lamely indicated to me that it was left out because of “space limitations.”

But it just isn’t as attention-getting or heart-rending a story when you tell all of it. None of that smirky irony.

I do understand that article real estate in major papers is expensive, but it’s hard to square that with the press’ supposed responsibility to at least give us an arm-wave attempt to tell the whole story. What I’m describing here isn’t just a wrinkle or a nuance, I think it’s fair to call it a glaring omission.

Personally, one of the few journalistically fair articles I’ve read is here, by the Associated Press.

At least that’s what at least half of the Jim Thorpe family would say, if that matters to anyone.

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