Monday, April 3, 2017

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

Naturally, when you combine one of my favorite authors with one of my favorite sports, you're bound to love the story. That's definitely true with Undefeated. I did a report on Jim Thorpe in the 6th grade and I remember him as an extraordinary athlete in the Olympics but my memory is foggy when it comes to him playing football. But I guess it's natural to say he was built for football too with his size and speed. 

Carlisle Indian School transformed the traditional Native Americans into a white looking students with a trim hair cut and new clothes. During this era of the 19th to 20th century, Native Americans were treated very poorly by the government and so this was this bitterness towards the whites that play in itself on the football field down the road in Thorpe's career. A big showdown with the Army football team of West Point headed by Einsenhower of all people. 

Football was actually supposed to be banned because of all the deaths related to injuries playing the game but newly appointed Teddy Roosevelt loved the game so much, he gathered a group together (now known as NCAA) to set new rules and regulations that made it more safe. One of these ways was to include the forward pass which before had been illegal. That meant for a lot less grind into each other, play after play. 

The upbeat tempo, high rolling offense that we love about the sport today is thanks to Carlisle's football team headed by Jim Thorpe which only lost one game in the 1912 season. No one before Carlisle could beat the "Big Four": Penn State, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Carlisle got so good that it turned into the "Big Five." 

Jim Thorpe defeated handily the best athletes in the world in the Olympics in Sweden in the decathlon and pentathlon. He wasn't even trained right in these events and he still won. My favorite was that he picked up the javelin and just threw it and not until later did he realize that he could have run a little bit. He still won. 

What I didn't know about Thorpe's story was the controversy over him playing professional baseball years prior and because he wasn't considered a true amateur, they removed his medals. He didn't know that he wasn't allowed to do that. Because he was Native American, speculation surfaced that this wouldn't have happened if he was a white American. There was some definite underlying racial issue themes going on throughout the book. 

But this guy was amazing! Truly, his athletic ability is just astounding. If you are remotely interested in sports and how football came to be, this is a great read (short too). And there are a lot of pictures and some drawn out plays in the book so I would recommend reading the printed version. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I put this on hold at the library in hopes Dad will read it. :)