Push to restore Jim Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner goes live on the 108th anniversary of his historic wins in Stockholm
Pictureworks Entertainment, in conjunction with tribal partners*, the National Congress of American Indians, and several of Jim Thorpe’s descendants, today announced the launch of "Take Back What Was Stolen," an initiative to restore legendary Native American athlete and icon Jim Thorpe’s status as the sole gold medal champion of the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon.
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One hundred and eight years ago to the day Jim shattered Olympic records, the petition to "Take Back What Was Stolen" calls on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reinstate his rightful status as the one and true gold medal winner in the track and field events he dominated during the 1912 Summer Olympics.
Breaking Olympic records and overcoming racial barriers
Jim Thorpe didn’t just break Olympic records in Stockholm in 1912 — he broke barriers — winning two gold medals at a time when Native Americans weren’t even recognized as U.S. citizens.
From being forced to travel to the Olympics in inferior accommodations compared to his white teammates, to having his track shoes stolen in an attempt to thwart his chances of winning, Jim overcame tremendous hardship and mistreatment on his path to gold. But while generations of sports fans likely know his story of triumph, few people know that Jim Thorpe’s iconic legacy was stolen less than a year after he won.
In 1913, the IOC stripped Jim of his wins after a smear campaign revealed that he’d played minor league baseball prior to the 1912 Summer Games. Although he’d earned meager pay — essentially playing for room and board -- the IOC’s rules at the time barred potential Olympians from participating in any kind of sports activity for pay, in order to be classified as an amateur and compete.
It didn't matter that Jim was denied an opportunity to defend himself before his accusers, nor did the IOC consider the fact that he’d essentially played baseball for room and board at a time when many Native American youth were separated from their families, forced to live in boarding schools and struggled to survive.
In addition, the timing of the disqualification itself flagrantly violated the Olympic Committee rules, since the complaint was lodged over six months after the Games closed in Stockholm — far later than the 30-day time limit they had set for reviews.
A chance to "right" history
After decades of efforts, a group of supporters led by Jim’s children, pre-eminent Thorpe biographer, Robert Wheeler, and his wife, Florence Ridlon, finally convinced the IOC to reinstate his gold medal status. And while his children were presented with duplicate gold medals in 1983, the victory was bittersweet.
Though the IOC reinstated Thorpe’s records, they designated him a "co-champion" alongside athletes who were previously the silver medal winners — not the sole gold medal winner that he was.
The "Take Back What Was Stolen" petition is a call for the IOC to take the necessary steps to "right" history and restore Jim Thorpe’s proper status as the sole gold medalist in both the decathlon and pentathlon. The signatures and petition will serve to support the resolution introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, to compel the IOC to correct Jim’s record.
"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, 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 "Take Back What Was Stolen" petition is just the first in a series of initiatives tied to BRIGHT PATH — the upcoming feature film about Jim Thorpe’s life and legacy from Pictureworks Entertainment. Join the movement and sign the petition at brightpathstrong.com
*Pictureworks Entertainment Tribal partners in BRIGHT PATH include The Tuolumne Band of Mewuk Indians, The Mohegan Tribe, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, The Tonto Apache Tribe, The Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, Chicken Ranch Rancheria of Mewuk Indians of California, Sealaska Corporation, and Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians.