Wheeler: "Why do you resist all efforts to restore Thorpe's medals?"
Brundage: "You don't know much about the law, do you kid?"
Wheeler: "What do you mean?"
Brundage: "Ignorance is no excuse."
Indeed, it was not. Soon after the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram broke the story in January of 1913 that Thorpe had played baseball for pay, the AAU voted to "secure the return of prizes and readjustment of points won by him [Thorpe], and will immediately eliminate his records from the books."
No one disputed that Thorpe had violated his amateur standing, but as Wheeler would persistently point out years later, there were many extenuating circumstances. In researching the bylaws of the 1912 Olympiad in the Library of Congress, for example, Ridlon uncovered the fact that "objections to the qualification of a competitor [must be]...received by the Swedish Olympic Committee before the lapse of 30 days." The newspaper story that led to Thorpe's loss of amateur status didn't appear until six months after the Olympics.
Wheeler also reminded the IOC that it was the AAU, and not the IOC, that had originally ruled that Thorpe was a pro. The AAU changed its position on Thorpe in 1973, and the USOC did the same two years later. Wheeler argued that an IOC reversal should logically follow the AAU's.
The role of Glenn (Pop) Warner, Thorpe's coach at Carlisle, was another factor in his being disqualified. According to Joe Libby, a Carlisle teammate of Thorpe's interviewed by Wheeler, it was Warner who had suggested that Thorpe, Libby and Jesse Youngdeer play in Rocky Mount. Newcombe agrees with Wheeler's contention that Warner didn't support Thorpe strongly enough when the professionalism story broke, and that with the official backing of the school, which Warner no doubt could have obtained for Thorpe, he would have had a better chance of being exonerated.
Until Simon came along, the biggest barrier Wheeler faced was the uncompromising attitude of the IOC, which had turned down a 1975 USOC request to restore Thorpe's medals. Among the most unyielding committee members were the two American representatives, Julian K. Roosevelt and Douglas F. Roby. As late as a month before the IOC turnaround, Roosevelt showed a remarkable ignorance of the particulars of the case. He didn't know, for example, that the AAU and the USOC had reversed themselves on Thorpe's status.
"I don't care who he [Wheeler] gets on a petition," said Roosevelt in early September. "He's spinning his wheels."