What If Jim Thorpe Didn’t Return to Carlisle?

Ever consider what would have happened to Jim Thorpe had he not returned to Carlisle in 1911? Pop Warner and Moses Friedman have received a lot of criticism, much of it earned, for their handling of the Jim Thorpe scandal. But what if they hadn’t let him return? It appears that Friedman didn’t really want him back anyway. How differently would things have turned out if, after Albert Exendine bumped into Thorpe, in Anadarko, Oklahoma in the summer of 1911, Warner didn’t want him back?

It is curious that that Jim Thorpe, a 3rd string All American in 1908, sat out the 1909 and 1910 seasons without being recruited by a major football power or even a small Oklahoma college. My sense is that he had had all the schooling he wanted and wasn’t prepared academically for college. Other Carlislians who went on to play football at major colleges generally attended the Dickinson College Preparatory School prior to enrolling in college. Thorpe hadn’t done that. In the early 1920s, he mentioned that numerous colleges had approached him about enrolling in their institutions when he was playing college football. However, that likely happened after he returned to Carlisle in 1911.

It is highly unlikely that Jim Thorpe would have played in a high enough profile program to be named 1st string All America in football in 1911 if he didn’t return to Warner and Carlisle. Perhaps he would have made the Olympic team if found a trainer and a club of the caliber necessary to prepare him to make the team. It’s possible but seems unlikely, especially since he hadn’t taken steps to find a trainer or club before returning to Carlisle less than a year before the Olympic Games.

So, my conclusion is that Jim Thorpe profited from returning to Carlisle. Losing the medals was a price he paid for that decision, but he still made out better in the long run than he would have if he had stayed in Oklahoma. Conflicting opinions are welcomed.

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