James Parker is asking how it’s possible that the greatest athlete of the 20th century, the man who elevated Canton through his athletic gifts, has been relegated to the sidelines.
On the crystal-cold night of Jan. 30, 1952, 703 well-wishers squeezed into the Onesto Hotel.
They had come to see the legend.
Based on the stories, it hardly seemed possible that he could be merely mortal, and they wanted to see for themselves.
Even at a well-worn 64, he probably could lick most of the suits in the room. He had a massive head that belonged on a stamp. Or carved on a mountain. His thick hands were as large as catcher’s mitts and still looked as if they could bend iron.
Did he really drop-kick a football 60 yards and bat .333 against professional baseball pitchers? Who wins Olympic medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon like they were jogs around Monument Park?
When King Gustav V of Sweden called him “the world’s greatest athlete,” he responded as only an American could: “Thanks, King.”
It was a life of glory blunted by injustice, discrimination, poverty and yes, even bouts of self-destruction. Even his final resting place would be a sad coda to a life of greatness, brought back down to Earth by misfortune.
Fifty-nine years after that Canton gathering, James Parker is asking how it’s possible that the greatest athlete of the 20th century, the man who elevated Canton through his athletic gifts, has been relegated to the sidelines.
Parker said Canton needs to do more to honor Jim Thorpe, the adopted son who helped to found the National Football League in Ralph Hay’s Hupmobile showroom at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Second Street SW on Sept. 17, 1920.
“His legacy speaks for itself,” Parker said. “He’s not the kind of guy about whom you have to wax colloquially. I’m not sure why he hasn’t gotten more attention. Had it not been for Jim Thorpe, we would not have the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
In a letter he plans to read at Monday’s City Council meeting, Parker is calling for an exploratory committee to erect a statue of Thorpe on Central Plaza, for starters.
Parker writes: “Football seems to have remembered Jim Thorpe, but have we, the Cantonians? ... For vindication, why not strive to place his rich tapestry of athletic excellence over a deserving mantel such as our downtown?”
Parker’s assessment of what he considers Canton’s neglect of Thorpe and an absence of football history downtown is blunt. A brass plaque and a hotel bar, he said, are not enough.
“How many thousands of dollars did that time capsule cost?” he asked. “It’s nice, but who comes to downtown to see a time capsule? How is it a boost to downtown business? We spent thousands of dollars on those fountains, which break every year and then cost hundreds of dollars to fix.”
Page 2 of 2 - In San Francisco, you can’t walk two blocks without bumping into Jack London. The same goes for Al Capone in Chicago and Jesse James in Missouri. Parker said that would be the day when, say, Massillon would have minimized Thorpe, who died on March 28, 1953.
Paul Brown got a stadium. What would Massillon have done, Parker asks, for a Jim Thorpe?