The backfield of the Carlise, Pa. Indian Industrial School football team, that included legendary athlete Jim Thorpe, standing at far right, is shown in this undated photo, part of the exhibit "Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience," on display at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. The exhibit is the first comprehensive exhibition examining the federal government's quest to use education to assimilate Indians into mainstream society and rid the country of its so-called "Indian problem." (AP Photo/Courtesy of The Heard Museum)
New book describes how Carlisle Indian School used football as more than sport
Airdate: Thursday, February 2, 2023
Outside of Carlisle and south central Pennsylvania, The Carlisle Indian Industrial School is best known for itâ€™s national power football teams in the early part of the 20th Century and Jim Thorpe â€“ the world renowned athlete.
But a new book documents how the school used football for more than just school spirit or to build its athletic program.
Itâ€™s called The Imperial Gridiron â€“ Manhood, Civilization and Football at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School by Matthew Bentley and Shippensburg University History Professor John Bloom.
On The Spark Thursday, Bloom told us that the founder and superintendent of the Carlisle Indian School Richard Henry Pratt at first wanted to use football to show indigenous people weren’t savages many Americans thought they were,”Number one was that, you know, you never hit back. You always behaved like a gentleman. But number two, you beat the best teams in the country within the span of five years, which Carlisle did not do. They didn’t meet that second criteria until after five years.”
But eventually the school became a football powerhouse after Glenn “Pop” Warner was hired as coach and Moses Friedman became superintendent. Bloom writes that both men led to the football program and the Carlisle School’s downfall,”Carlisle had a booster organization, which is where their funds went when they would play another team. So when they would play a team like Harvard, there was always a big gate receipts that would come in and they came to the Carlisle Booster Fund. Pop Warner had entire sole control over the Carlisle Booster Fund. He paid himself out of the Carlisle Booster Fund. He also bribed players. He also drank openly. He also gambled on games. So he was not a paragon of civilization. And in fact, if you think of him coming out of Cornell, which is his school as a football player, he really embraced that kind of masculinity, some might say toxic masculinity that football represented at the time. Friedman was really a very weak administrator. So if you think about Pratt being this larger than life founder of the school and Superintendent Friedman was in a lot of ways quite the opposite and so was able to be pushed around quite a bit by Pop Warner. And then in addition to that, he would he engaged in his own chicanery, he would,Â double charge the government for train trips to football games and do all sorts of things like that. The students really did not respect Friedman very much, which is one of the major things that helped to bring Carlisle down. They end up petitioning Congress and petitioning the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have Friedman and eventually Warner too removed from their positions.”
Bloom said there were several factors that led to the demise of the Carlisle Indian School but athletics and football becoming such a big part of the school’s identity to the detriment of other students were contributors as well,”If a woman became pregnant at the school, for example, they were simply expelled. And this happened quite a bit because by the time you get to the end of the school, a lot of the students were relatively all you know, you look at the earliest he’s ever seen these early pictures of Carlisle. You see these children that are there. And that is true that very young children were there. But to get to the end, there were people there that really shouldn’t have been there because they were too old. They would have been 24, 25, 26 years old. And they had the same sorts of regulations on their lives made as high school. And so the scandals, the financial scandals, the sex scandals, drinking on campus, all these things ended up bringing Carlisle down. And eventually they needed the space for a hospital during World War One and turned the space over to essentially what it would become, another Army post.