Jim Thorpe Viewer Discussion Guide


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Jim Thorpe Viewer Discussion Guide

  1. 1. JIM THORPE, THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE • V I E W E R D I S C U S S I O N G U I D E • Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete “Son, you are an Indian. Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete, I want you to show other is the first documentary to fully chronicle races what an Indian can the life story of the legendary athlete. The do.” man who would achieve world recognition for his Olympic achievements, also affirmed —Hiram Thorpe’s last words to his American Indian identity in the face of his son, Jim, when he boarded a train to Carlisle Indian Industrial unrelenting efforts to eradicate Indian culture. School in 1904. The film brings Thorpe’s story to life with in-depth interviews from Thorpe’s surviving children, simple recreations and images culled from over seventy-five archive sources, along with photographs and motion picture clips. Carlisle Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete will air on public television stations in November 2009. Check local listings and/or the film’s Web site www.jimthorpefilm.com for broadcast information. NAPT Native American Public Telecommunications 1
  2. 2. JIM THORPE, THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE This viewer discussion guide is designed to encourage deeper exploration and conversations about the film, the life and times of Jim Thorpe, and his extraordinary achievements. • PRODUCER’S NOTES Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Co-Producer and Co-Writer My interest in Jim Thorpe goes back to my childhood when I saw the Hollywood film about his life. My own Indian ancestry fueled my response to Thorpe’s story of a Native American who, at a time when Indians were less than second-class citizens, gained international acclaim as an athlete. I was troubled, though, that the film cast Thorpe as a hapless victim, which propelled me to find out more about the man behind the image. Though I never met Thorpe himself, I met Indians who’d known him in Hollywood or in sports. The stories I heard from Wendell Mt. Pleasant (whose brother quarterbacked for the first Carlisle football team Thorpe played on), Swift Eagle (who was in several movies with Thorpe) and his children, Jack and Grace Thorpe, all increased my appreciation of Thorpe, not just as an athlete, but as a generous man with a great sense of humor and incredible determination. I began to see his story as one that spoke both about Indian survival in the 20th century, despite the cultural genocide brought about by boarding schools, but also, the complicated relationship between amateur sports and commerce, the difficulties of being a famous person and living a normal life, and the nation itself in the first half of the 20th century. It was a story I thought needed to be told in a different way, rounding out the sensational with facts about Jim Thorpe’s incredible life. For more information on Joseph Bruchac (Co-Producer/Co-Writer) and Tom Weidlinger (Co-Producer/Co- Writer/Director), visit Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete Web site at www.jimthorpefilm.com/about. • ABOUT THE FILM Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete, tells the story of the Native American athlete who became a sports icon in the first half of the 20th century. Beginning with Thorpe’s boyhood in Indian Territory, the film chronicles Thorpe’s rise to athletic stardom at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, winning two gold medals at the 1912 Summer Olympics, his fall from grace in the eyes of the amateur athletic establishment, and his rebound in professional baseball and football. Thorpe retired from pro sports at age 41, just before the stock market crash of 1929. He worked as a construction laborer before landing small roles in Hollywood westerns. That experience—with low and unequal pay—led Thorpe to become a representative for Indian extras in Hollywood, fighting for equal wages for Native Americans in the movies. In his later years during the 1940s, Thorpe crisscrossed the nation as a public speaker advocating for Indian self-determination. “As one who played against him in football more than 40 years ago, I personally feel no other athlete possessed his all around abilities in games and sports…” —Dwight D. Eisenhower. NAPT Native American Public Telecommunications 2
  3. 3. JIM THORPE, THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE • BY THE NUMBERS The US population of American Indians in 1904, when Thorpe left for the Carlisle 250,000 Indian Industrial School. At that time, it was assumed that the Indian would simply disappear before the end of the twentieth century. 4.1 million US population of American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2000 (US Census) $6,500 Amount of Thorpe’s contract with the New York Giants in 1913 $22,500,000 Amount of Manny Ramirez’s contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009 $1,500 Amount Jim Thorpe received from MGM for the film rights to his life story $2,500 Fee that Thorpe’s manager charged for negotiating the Giants’ contract $35,000 Amount Warner Brothers reportedly paid MGM for the rights to Thorpe’s life story 41 Age Jim Thorpe played his last pro football game Age at which Jim Thorpe could still drop kick a football from mid-field straight 60 through the goal posts Native Voices Foundation (NVF) was formed to bolster tribal sports programs and provide more opportunities for Native Americans to participate as Olympic athletes. “We have some amazing talent on the Native American Olympic Ski and Snowboard Team, vying for the 2010 Vancouver Games,” said Captain Billy Kidd (Olympic Abenaki). “Ross Anderson (Cheyenne/ Marketing director Ski Apache), bronzed in the World Speed Skiing Championships and was the ‘Fastest American on Skis’, clocked at 154mph. While speed skiing is not yet an Olympic sport, he could switch to Alpine Racing for Vancouver.” Former NVF Co-Chair Gary Lake assisted Naomi Lang (Karuk), America’s five-time National Ice Dancing Champion, who got a standing ovation at the 2002 Utah Olympics, with press recognition. “She is the only American Indian to make an Olympic Team in this Millennium,” he points out. That is why Lake is spearheading his Shasta Nation’s development of a Native American Olympic Training Center near Mt. Shasta in Northern California. “We support this Olympic quest, whether or not we win the bid, because it also gives our youth more opportunities to make US Olympic Teams, which has done the most to lift Blacks, Women and Aborigines. The Olympics teaches life skills that are a tradition of our culture predating Atlantis,” said Joe Garcia (San Juan Pueblo runner), former President of the National Congress of American Indians. For more information, visit the NVF Web site at www.nativevoices.org. NAPT Native American Public Telecommunications 3
  4. 4. JIM THORPE, THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE • FOOD FOR THOUGHT 1. Jim Thorpe was born at a time when the Sac and Fox tribe had been transformed from wide ranging buffalo hunters to 700 survivors on a small reservation. The Oklahoma land rush, which opened up most of the Indian land to white settlement, brought white settlers and new towns, but few rights for Indians. In what ways did the world Thorpe was born into shape his life? How did key events in Thorpe’s early life—being sent away to school, having a stern father, losing his father—shape his approach to and view of the world? 2. Carlisle Industrial School, where Thorpe was sent, used military discipline to transform Indians into “citizens.” The unofficial motto of the Carlisle School was: “To save the man you must kill the Indian.” Students were forbidden to speak their own language, their hair was cut, they were required to wear military-style uniforms, and infractions of the rules prohibiting “Indian” behavior were severely punished. More ran away than graduated. In Thorpe’s day, why was “assimilation” viewed as the best means for Indians to achieve citizenship? How is assimilation viewed today? What role does language, personal appearance and dress play in shaping, defining and expressing culture? How would you feel if you were not allowed to speak your language or were forced to alter your appearance? What legacy does forced assimilation leave? 3. The Olympic Games had suffered from poor organization and political infighting in the early 1900s. Two things restored the Games to the world stage. The first was Sweden’s meticulous hosting of the Games. The second was Jim Thorpe. It was there that he became an instant international sensation, universally acclaimed as “the Greatest Athlete in the World.” If Thorpe helped to elevate the Olympics to worldwide acceptance, what did his athletic accomplishments achieve for him personally? What status do Olympic athletes receive today? How has celebrity status in sports impacted athletics and those who compete? 4. “What Dad didn’t like about the movies is the way they portrayed the Indian. Little people. Bloodthirsty, drunken savages. We was always getting our butt whipped. I don’t think we ever won one movie,” said Jack Thorpe, Jim’s son. Are Indians still portrayed in media in a stereotypical fashion? If so, how are they portrayed? What other racial, ethnic, religious, gender, or sexual minority stereotypes are perpetuated in the media? Have you ever experienced being stereotyped? If so, how did it impact you? What are the effects of stereotyping on a culture? 5. “I have never forgotten that I am an Indian,” said Jim Thorpe. “We settled this country long before the white people ever came to these shores. But Red Men are wards of the government. The Indian should be permitted to shed his inferiority complex and live like a normal American citizen.” As a man born on American soil, how did Thorpe come to be a ward of the state? How did this affect his rights as an American? As an Olympic athlete? Consider how ongoing mistreatment, and/or discrimination of a group of people affect their feelings about themselves. What might it take to “shed an inferiority complex” caused by years of mistreatment and marginalization? 6. What do you think Jim Thorpe’s greatest achievements were? NAPT Native American Public Telecommunications 4
  5. 5. JIM THORPE, THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE • IDEAS FOR ACTION 1. Be a Friend to the Next Champion: Consider someone you know who has triumphed against great odds. Think about what it took for that person to succeed. Do you know someone who could use a helping hand? If so, what can you or others in your family or community do to help that person fulfill his or her dream? 2. Celebrating Ethnic Heritage: Understanding the life of Jim Thorpe, behind the legend of the Olympic athlete and Hollywood actor, helps us to appreciate what it took for him to excel. Each of us has our own stories of triumphs and challenges, as well as traditions from our family, neighborhood, or country that shaped who we are today. Celebrate the diverse experiences represented in your family or community. Invite family or community members to tell their own or a family member’s stories. Create a get together or more formal event where you share these stories and offer samples of special food, music, or dance. 3. Encourage Youth Fitness for All Children: Jim Thorpe was a strong advocate for physical activity and fitness among youth. You can help honor his legacy by finding opportunities to encourage youth in your family or community to become more active. Here are some organizations to get you started: • The YMCA helps children, families and adults become more active and healthy. They offer a range of activities from organized sports to individual programs, such as “Activate Health”. www.ymca.net • Boys and Girls Clubs of America offer kids a safe place to learn and grow while having fun. Clubs provide wellness programs, organized leagues and sports events, plus other recreational activities. www.bgca.org/programs/sportfitness.asp • The State Games of America is a multisport, biannual event for all ages and abilities. www.thesportscorp.org/html/sportsCorp/SGA2009/index.html • FIND OUT MORE Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete, Film Web site • www.jimthorpefilm.com Jim Thorpe Filmography • www.imdb.com/name/nm0861680 Sac and Fox Nation (Official Web site) • www.sacandfoxnation-nsn.gov/index.htm Indian Boarding Schools • www.historicalsociety.com • home.epix.net/~landis • www.pbs.org/indiancountry/history/boarding.html Other Native American Media Native American Films & media resources • www.nativetelecom.org (Native American Public Telecommunications) NAPT Native American Public Telecommunications 5
  6. 6. JIM THORPE, THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE • BIBLIOGRAPHY Bruchac, Joseph. Jim Thorpe: Original All-American. New York, NY: Dial Books, 2006. Crawford, Bill. All American: The Rise and Fall of Jim Thorpe. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2005. Graham, Frank. McGraw of the Giants: An Informal Biography. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1944. Hagan, William T. The Sac and Fox Indians. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958. Katz, D. Mark. Custer In Photographs. New York, NY: Bonanza Books, 1985. Newcombe, Jack. The Best of the Athletic Boys, The White Man’s Impact on Jim Thorpe. Doubleday and Company, 1975. Wheeler, Robert W. Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979. Whitman, Robert L. Ph. D. Jim Thorpe and the Oorang Indians: The NFL’s Most Colorful Franchise. Oklahoma City, OK: Robert L. Whitman in cooperation with The Jim Thorpe Association, 1984. Whitman, Robert L. Ph. D. Jim Thorpe: Athlete of the Century A Pictorial History. Oklahoma City, OK: Robert L. Whitman in cooperation with The Jim Thorpe Association, 2002. Witmer, Linda F. The Indian Industrial School: Carlisle, Pennsylvania 1879 – 1918. Carlisle, PA: The Cumberland County Historical Society, 1993. All content in this guide may be reproduced in whole or in part for educational use. Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete is a Moira Productions Film in association with Dateline Productions, © 2008. Funding for the film and study guide was provided by the Lillian Lincoln Foundation. This viewer discussion guide was adapted by Bodie & Kovitz Communications (www.bodieandkovitz.com) from Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete Study Guide authored by Joseph Bruchac and edited by Tom Weidlinger. For more information, see the study guide online at www.jimthorpefilm.com/guide/index.html. Funding for this viewer discussion guide was provided by Native American Public Telecommunications, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Native American Public Telecommunications shares Native stories with the world through support of the creation, promotion and distribution of Native media. For more information, visit www.nativetelecom.org. NAPT Native American Public Telecommunications 6