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This article was published 21/10/2014 (2474 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jim Thorpe has beat out Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Babe Ruth for the title of best athlete on a number of occasions. He was voted athlete of the first half of the 20th century by the Associated Press, and was also named the greatest athlete of the 20th century by an ABC television poll.
Thorpe, for those who don’t remember him, was known for his gold medal wins in the pentathlon and the decathlon at the 1912 Olympics and his stellar performances in the National Football League.
What he wasn’t necessarily known for, however, was his Native American ancestry and now more recently, being the muse for a new book.
Don Marks, an Osborne Village resident, writer, director, and filmmaker, is launching his new book Playing the White Man’s Games on Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. in McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.).
The 257-page historical non-fiction book tells the stories of indigenous athletes who made their way through the professional sports industry and came out on top. Some of the athletes profiled include football star Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel, golfer Notah Begay III, Toronto Maple Leaf George Armstrong, and of course the famed Thorpe.
Thorpe, Marks admitted, was his favourite athlete to profile and also a big inspiration in creating the compilation.
"The exploits were great and so many," Marks said. "And nobody knows these stories!"
Playing the White Man’s Games, published by J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc., is Marks’ second book since They Call Me Chief was released in 2008.
"They Call Me Chief was about native superstars in hockey," Marks said. "Then I realized First Nation athletes have excelled in other sports."
The purpose of Playing the White Man’s Games, Marks said, is to showcase and share the contributions First Nations people have made to the world of sports, and more generally modern life in North America.
"Generally our history books have ignored the contributions made by Native Americans," Marks noted.
This book has been a lifelong undertaking for Marks and was first sparked by a fascination with First Nations history and culture and then complemented by a lot of research.
"Anybody alive I tried to interview," Marks said, though most of the athletes profiled have passed away.
Marks personally spoke to Billy Mills and his wife; Ed ‘Wahoo’ McDaniel’s son in Florida and his sister in Midland, Texas; and Notah Begay III, who was once Tiger Woods’s roommate.
"It was not really a great big writing job as much as just trying to tell stories in an interesting, entertaining and concise way," Marks said. "You know, don’t bore people. Just let the stories speak for themselves."
Marks said his book counters pervasive negative stereotypes about indigenous people in North America.
"These athletes are positive stereotypes. I also want to provide role models for young people."
And as for the title of the book, Marks said there’s nothing political behind it.
"These are Native Americans or First Nations athletes playing white man’s games. They’re not playing their traditional indigenous games," Marks said.
"I hope no one is offended or gets misled," Marks said. "It’s just a clever little take on it."
Playing the White Man’s Games sells for $24.95 and proceeds from the Winnipeg sales of the book will go to the National Indigenous Council of Elders.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.