David Maraniss on Jim Thorpe
Thursday, October 13, 2022
1201: Elebash Recital Hall
Open to the Public
In conversation with Dave Zirin
Jim Thorpe rose to world fame as a mythic talent who excelled at every sport. He won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, was an All-American football player at the Carlisle Indian School, the star of the first class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and played major league baseball for John McGraw’s New York Giants. Even in a golden age of sports celebrities, he was one of a kind.
But despite his colossal skills, Thorpe’s life was a struggle against the odds. As a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, he encountered duplicitous authorities who turned away from him when their reputations were at risk. At Carlisle, he dealt with the racist assimilationist philosophy “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” His gold medals were unfairly rescinded because he had played minor league baseball. His later life was troubled by alcohol, broken marriages, and financial distress. He roamed from state to state and took bit parts in Hollywood, but even the film of his own life failed to improve his fortunes. But for all his travails, Thorpe did not succumb. The man survived, complications and all, and so did the myth.
David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post and a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and was a finalist three other times. Among his bestselling books are biographies of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Roberto Clemente, and Vince Lombardi, and a trilogy about the 1960s—Rome 1960; Once in a Great City (winner of the RFK Book Prize); and They Marched into Sunlight (winner of the J. Anthony Lucas Prize and Pulitzer Finalist in History).
Dave Zirin is the sports editor at The Nation Magazine. He is also the author of 11 books on the politics of sports including most recently The Kaepernick Effect: Taking a Knee, Changing the World. His books include the NAACP Image Award nominee The John Carlos Story. His writings have been seen in The New York Times, The Washington Post. And The Source. He is also the host of the Edge of Sports Podcast and co-host of The Collision along with former NBA player Etan Thomas which broadcasts on WPFW in Washington DC.