World's Greatest Athlete
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
336 Pages | 6 x 9 | 57 b&w illus.
Born in 1888 in what would soon be Oklahoma Territory, Jim Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation. After attending the Sac and Fox agency school and Haskell Indian Junior College in Lawrence, Kansas, he transferred to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. At Carlisle he led the football team to victories over some of the nation’s best college teams—Army, Navy, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska. In 1912 he participated in the Olympic Games in Stockholm, winning both the decathlon and pentathlon. It was then that King Gustav V of Sweden dubbed him “the world’s greatest athlete.”
Between 1913 and 1919, Thorpe played professional baseball for the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. In 1915 he began playing professional football with the Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs. When the top teams were organized into the American Professional Football Association in 1920, Thorpe was named the first president of the organization, renamed the National Football League in 1922. Throughout his career he excelled in every sport he played, earning King Gustav’s accolade many times over.
In a new preface, Wheeler and Florence Ridlon update Thorpe’s story, drawing on research they have conducted in spearheading the effort to restore the athlete’s Olympic medals and his first-place wins in the pentathlon and decathlon, taken from him when it was discovered he had played professional baseball during the summer before the games in Stockholm. The explanation for Thorpe’s imprudence, as Wheeler and Ridlon show, has everything to do with poor advice from the coach he trusted, Glenn “Pop” Warner, and a corrupt Indian boarding school system. The preface also discusses Thorpe’s work on the lecture circuit and in the motion picture business, as an actor and recruiter of other Native actors.
“What distinguishes Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete from the rest is the humility with which the author approaches the subject, allowing those who knew Thorpe best to delineate the exquisite painting of Jim’s life."—Abraham Taylor, Chairman, Pictureworks Entertainment and Producer
“Wheeler was able to talk to people who had known Thorpe from childhood to the end of his life. Biographies of this depth are practically nonexistent. Wheeler records Thorpe’s life with sympathy, understanding, and adherence to fact.”—Rose Robinson, founder of the American Indian Press Association and Indian Media Woman of the Year
“Robert Wheeler is Jim Thorpe’s Boswell.”—Dick Schaap, Emmy-award winning sports journalist for Newsweek, NBC, and ESPN
“Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete is the finest biography I have ever read on any athlete.”—Bill Mallon, author of Historical Dictionary of Golf
“(The) definitive volume on Thorpe.”—Pro (official magazine of the NFL)
“Bob Wheeler hitch-hiked across America in search of the true Jim Thorpe story, interviewing nearly 200 people, including President Dwight Eisenhower, actor Burt Lancaster, and a teacher from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Wheeler used this treasure trove of material to write the definitive biography. He wound up righting historical wrongs and helped get Thorpe's Olympic medals, records, and legacy restored."—Scott Pitoniak, author of Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story
“Jim Thorpe is undoubtedly the best-documented account of Thorpe’s life. In a quest that encompassed a half-century, Bob Wheeler, with significant assistance from Florence Ridlon, succeeded in restoring Jim Thorpe’s medals and official recognition as the true gold medal winner of the decathlon and pentathlon for the 1912 Olympics—correcting a long-standing and unjust wrong.”—Jim Campbell, co-author of Hell with the Lid Off: Inside the Fierce Rivalry between the 1970s Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers
“Bob Wheeler worked very hard and learned firsthand the difference between corruption and integrity and chose the latter at personal expense.”—Howard Cosell, ABC-TV Sports
“Not only did Wheeler exhaustively research Thorpe’s life, but he and Dr. Florence Ridlon got his Olympic medals restored. This is the gold standard!”—Tom Benjey, author of Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team