Watch: Tall Paul [Someone Great Who Looked Like Me]
Back in 1912, Jim Thorpe became the first Native American to win Olympic gold for his home country. More than 100 years later, Anishinaabe hip-hop artist Tall Paul is memorializing him through music.
In Someone Great Who Looked Like Me, Tall Paul explores the life and legacy of Thorpe – both on and off the playing field. A member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe was – and remains – one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports. In addition to starring in pentathlon and decathlon, he played professional football, baseball and basketball.
Growing up without any Native American athletes to look up to, Tall Paul was immediately drawn to his story.
“When I was in middle school I lived in this small town called Redwood Falls for a couple years, and every day we could, we would play tackle football in this big field near the townhouse complex we lived in,” recalls Paul. “I’m talking sometimes ten-on-ten games in the rain, kids breaking thumbs, busting their noses and all of that. We all loved the game so much, and around that same time I began wondering if there had ever been a well-known Native athlete in any sport that I cared for.
“So I started doing some research in the library at my school and I came across Jim Thorpe’s name. It was amazing to me all of the feats he accomplished, from being an Olympic gold medalist and a championship football player for the Canton Bulldogs (in the league that would become the NFL), to organizing an all-Native NFL team called the Oorang Indians, and even playing Major League Baseball. All of those things combined really amazed me as a kid, and made me believe more in myself and my athletic abilities in particular.”
In addition to stressing the importance of youth having idols they can identify with, Tall Paul draws parallels between himself and Thorpe, including their shared love for sports and their history of alcohol use. In the second verse, Paul even compares his experience in foster care and Thorpe’s time in boarding schools.
“I just needed someone great who looked like me,” he raps in the chorus, “Jim Thorpe, you could be my Muhammad Ali.”
Produced by Mercies May, the song’s video is set to the backdrop of Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Filmed during a road trip to various sites historically relevant to Thorpe, it reinforces just how much of a legacy he’s left behind – a legacy Tall Paul wants to preserve for future generations.
As he puts it in the song: “Now I gotta be you for kids who wanna be me.”