Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

Out from the Shadows: Researching Fred Simpson

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

Out from the Shadows: Researching Fred Simpson

Article excerpt


The 1908 Olympic Games in London, England bear frequent reference to the name Tom Longboat, an Onondaga from the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario, Canada. Longboat competed in foot racing when it was immensely popular, excelling in the distance events. He qualified for the marathon in the 1908 Games, and almost did not attend on account of a challenge leveled against his amateur status. While in London, he failed to cross the finish line, having collapsed near the eighteenth mile amid rumors that he had been drugged. (1) After the Games, Longboat turned professional, winning numerous high profile races in Canada and abroad. He settled first in Toronto, and later moved back to Six Nations, where his family was located. He passed away in 1949.

An important point to consider about Longboat's career is that his athletic success often placed him at the centre of public attention: he was a celebrity. That he was also Native added to his allure. The popular press regularly reported on his competitions and frequently provided accounts of his performances that hinged on the representation of racial differences. To be another Native runner in the same region and era as Longboat meant entering the same space of sport as the famed Onondaga--a space where Longboat was the standard by which other Native athletes were measured and assessed.

This paper explores the sporting career of one such athlete, Fred Simpson, a Mississauga Ojibwe from the Alderville Indian Reserve, located about 200 kilometers east of Six Nations in southern Ontario. Like Longboat, Simpson competed in the marathon in the 1908 Olympic Games in London but finished sixth overall in that grueling race. With Louis Tewanima, an American Hopi Indian, also in the contest, the 1908 marathon marks the first and only time three athletes of Native heritage are known to have competed in the same event. After the London Games, Simpson turned professional, competing in high profile races in Canada and the United States until his retirement from sport in 1912. He passed away in 1945.

Specifically, this paper examines how Simpson was represented in The Examiner, (2) one of two leading newspapers in Peterborough, Ontario, where he had clear ties to sport. The Examiner, unlike the other major daily, The Review, is noteworthy for its comprehensive coverage; it chronicled Simpson's entire athletic career, from amateur to professional. The present paper focuses on the reporting in The Examiner from May 1908 to May 1909 so as to center attention on Simpson's involvement in the 1908 Games and his subsequent entry into professional sport. That is not to say that The Examiner and The Review were the only daily newspapers writing about Simpson. In Canadian newspapers, he was regularly mentioned in The Toronto Star, while in the American press, stories about Simpson surfaced occasionally in such well known papers as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The Atlanta Constitution; (3) this is probably due to the fact that in 1909, Simpson lived and trained in Georgia for several months under the direction of his manager, trainer and promoter, Tom Eck. (4)

A preliminary reading of The Examiner shows how ideas about race were embedded in and conveyed through the paper's coverage of Simpson. The crucial point of my analysis is that his representational status as an Indian was influenced to some extent by how Longboat was portrayed in the media, specifically The Toronto Star. Whether amateur or professional, Longboat was usually cast as the 'bad Indian' who squandered his talents and money, whereas Simpson was the 'good Indian' who followed the advice of his trainers and managers. What complicates the issue is the way in which The Examiner constructed its image of Simpson: it was achieved in part by juxtaposing the more nuanced and realistic representations of Simpson in The Examiner with the overtly racialized representations of Longboat (and sometimes Simpson) published in The Toronto Star. …

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