It seems that Jim Thorpe was not only the ultimate competitive athlete, he amazingly was at the forefront of the beginnings of professional football, coaching the first and only all-Indian professional football team, and owning an all-female softball team, the Thunderbirds.
Those who saw the 1992 film, "A League of Their Own," probably remember that during World War II, while millions of men were in military service, women filled the men's roles. The film was a fictionalized story based on the accounts of two top players from the all-American Girls Professional Baseball League: outfielder-first baseman "All the Way" Faye Katherine Dancer played by Madonna, and catcher Lavone "Pepper" Paire Davis played by Geena Davis.
At the same time, Jim Thorpe, who was now in his fifties, had a hard time earning a living since aging out of professional football at the age of 41. In 1941 he divorced his second wife, and was feeling patriotic. And when he tried to enlist, he was told he was too old.
Then, according to biographer Kate Buford:
"On June 3, 1945, Jim woke up in a Tijuana hotel room next to a woman he knew, but not that well.
'Why are you here?' he asked her.
'We got married yesterday,' replied Patricia (Patsy) Gladys Askew.
'Don't you remember?' A quick marriage in Tijuana had bypassed California's three-day waiting period.
...Eleven days after his marriage, he was onboard a Merchant Marine cargo ship, as a ship's carpenter."
When the war ended, Jim returned to Patsy, and Patsy became his manager. She began charging for his appearances and began a publicity campaign. They moved to Hollywood Florida, then bought a hotel in Charleston South Carolina then moved to New York City, where he gave pep talks to the City College of New York lacrosse team.
They went on road trips whenever speaking events could be arranged. Jim spoke about his career, "the greatest players of all time," and the benefits of physical fitness. His fame was reborn when in 1946, his career took fourth place in the "Outstanding Sports Events of the Last One Hundred Years," and again in 1947 when parallels were drawn between the first black professional baseball player, Jackie Robinson, and Jim Thorpe, the first Indian player.
In 1948, Jim Thorpe was hired to coach the soccer team for the newly emerging nation of Israel. From time to time, he frequently got a movie role, usually as an extra, or when they needed either an Indian or a tough guy.
Although the war had ended, the all-American Girls Professional Baseball League ran from 1943 to 1954, changing names to the all-American Girls Baseball League, the all-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and the American Girls' Baseball League. The original All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was founded by chewing gum magnate, Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley. During their heyday, from 1943 to 1946, the league drew over one million fans.
Piggybacking on the success of the all-American Girls Professional Baseball League, in the spring of 1949, Jim and Patsy, now in Hollywood California, continued attempts to capitalize on his name by starting a local all-female softball team, the Thunderbirds, a name that Jim had used earlier for an all Indian Wild West show. Patsy was convinced that the combination of Jim Thorpe coaching and young girls in short skirts (skirts could be up to six inches above the knee) playing softball would draw a flood of fans. The Thunderbirds were never successful, and the Thorpes operated the team at a loss.
During the offseason, women's baseball great Faye Dancer played for Jim Thorpe all-female barnstorming team, the Thunderbirds, members of the National Softball Congress. "Here was the very great Jim Thorpe managing this little rlnky-dink softball team!" Pepper said. "We played quite a few games but there wasn't any real money being made by anybody, Expenses were about all anybody was making."
Pepper Paire Davis, Faye Dancer, and Betty Luna were on the West Coast and their next game was on the East Coast. "We figured that it would be a lot cheaper if we drove and shared the car expenses," Dancer said. "Then we could drive straight through and save our plane fare."
As they passed through Arizona, they learned that the Thunderbirds had a game scheduled with the Phoenix Queens. "We decided to take Highway 60, the southern route, so we'd be going right through Phoenix," Davis said. "Then we could go early enough to stop and watch them play a ballgame."
Thorpe accepted a $500 fee for the series of games. "Some of the gals on the team decided they weren't getting enough money (they were getting $2.50 a game), and they left the team and went home, taking their equipment with them," Davis said. Thorpe didn't have enough players to put a team on the field.
"We were told the Arizona promoters were going to put Jim Thorpe in jail for accepting the guarantee and not being able to furnish a team," Davis continued. "When we found out that those girls had stiffed Jim, the three of us, Faye, Betty and myself, stayed the weekend and played the games -- that way Jim Thorpe could put a team on the field. This meant Faye and I would both have to fly out after that or we would be late for spring training and lose two weeks' pay."
"During the seventh-inning stretch, he would go out and drop kick a football, as old as he was. But his wife was a blonde-haired hussy, and he didn't have enough money to pay for the team's hotel rooms, so Pepper and I offered to stay and play a ballgame to get him off the hook," Dancer said. "A-1 beer was popular in Phoenix, and when they heard the story, they contributed some money so the Thorpes could get out of town with their bills paid."
After that, Jim dissolved the team and took a job as an assistant sales manager for a Hudson car dealership.