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The seminar speaker contest begins: Jim Thorpe (1) vs. John Oliver

As promised, we’ll be having one contest a day for our Ultimate Seminar Speaker contest, first going through the first round of our bracket, then going through round 2, etc., through to the finals.

Here’s the bracket:

And now we begin! The first matchup is Jim Thorpe, seeded #1 in the GOATs category, vs. John Oliver, unseeded in the TV personalities category.

This is a tough one. Jim Thorpe is the GOAT of GOATs, arguably the greatest athlete ever lived, and with an interesting personal story as well. On the other hand, John Oliver is an undeniably entertaining speaker.

Remember the rules:

We’re trying to pick ultimate seminar speaker. I’m not asking for the most popular speaker, or the most relevant, or the best speaker, or the deepest, or even the coolest, but rather some combination of the above.

I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides. So give it your best!

It’s your duty as commenters to give the strongest and amusing arguments on both sides. So go to it! As you know, the comments are the fuel on which this blog runs.


  1. Martha (Smith) says:

    Jim Thorpe

    John Oliver is undeniably a great speaker, but Thorpe has a perspective that is unusual, interesting, and historically informative:

    What was it like to be Half Caucasian/half Native American at the time he grew up and when he was prominent in the news?
    (Heck, just hearing what it was like to grow up at the turn of the 20th century is always interesting.)

    How did he discover and develop his amazing physical skills?
    (How many people could even begin to talk about that?)

  2. Shecky R says:

    John Oliver has an English accent and is almost as funny as Peter Sellers… Jim Thorpe is dead and probably unheard of by most seminar attendees… on the positive side Thorpe wouldn’t know how to use Powerpoint… still, Oliver by a landslide (English accents are hard to defeat).

    • Tom says:

      Coming from England I’ve had more than my fill of the accent. I had to look up Jim Thorpe but am now duly impressed. We would surely get more stories like the one from wikipedia: ‘Thorpe began his athletic career at Carlisle in 1907 when he walked past the track and beat all the school’s high jumpers with an impromptu 5-ft 9-in jump still in street clothes.’ Seeing as he could do everything better than everyone else, just by giving it a go, he would surely give an incredible seminar.

  3. John Oliver can oiga boiga, which Jim Thorpe probably never heard of. But beyond that, many people would sign up for Oliver’s seminar just to hear him say “Whot?” Which sounds superficial, until you consider that “Whot?” has an inquisitive underpinning that would uplift and fortify the event.

  4. Terry says:

    Oliver wins hands down if the event is restricted to traditional seminar blah-blah talking. After all, he’s English, so he’s a native speaker of English, and we are all twig-chewing barbarians by comparison.

    To give Thorpe a chance, the seminar should be physical. I want to see Thorpe and Oliver compete by ramming their heads into a wall while wearing those old-fashioned football helmets.

    Like this:

    Thorpe already has the helmet, so we could save a little money there:×878/6b2135302ea7c23ec2968cbf3285bb0e/484077.jpg

  5. Roy says:

    You could have John Oliver do a segment on Jim Thorpe.

  6. Chas Busenburg says:

    Quote about Jim Thorpe.

    “(Jim Thorpe) was the greatest athlete who ever lived… What he has was a natural ability. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. All he had to see is someone doin’ something and he tried it… and he’d do it better” – 1912 Olympic Silver Medalist Abel Kiviat

    Pros: Jim Thorpe was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

    Quote about John Oliver.

    “John Oliver had his people call to ask me to be on his very boring and low rated show. I said “NO THANKS” Waste of time & energy!” -Our dear president

    Pros: John Oliver is in the ‘Trump attacked me on twitter’ hall of fame.

    I’m really not sure.

    • jrc says:

      “Pros: John Oliver is in the ‘Trump attacked me on twitter’ hall of fame.” John Oliver getting attacked by Trump on Twitter just shows that he would lose out to Oprah in the final because she’s too powerful for him to attack. And besides, Kim Jong Un got a death threat and a dick measure in the same tweet, and we aren’t inviting him.

      Jim Thorpe, whose father’s corpse was kidnapped from its own funeral*, was told by the King of Sweden that he was the greatest athlete in the world. He replied “Thanks, King.”**

      Thanks, King.

      *Source: internet
      **Source: internet

  7. Terry says:

    So it sounds like we are just going to ignore the whole being-dead thing.

    Of course, of course, we have to or else we lose many of our most interesting candidates.

    But, then comes the tricky part. HOW do we get around the problem? We could pretend we are bringing the person back to life in the present, like they were frozen and thawed for the event. Better yet, though, we could pretend that we are all going back in time to when the candidate was alive. This makes things much more interesting. In that case, I want to go back in time to a seminar with Jim Thorpe because I would get to dress like this:

  8. Ethan Bolker says:

    I do hope this contest doesn’t depend on the imagined reactions of our current president.

    That said, clearly Trump would trash both today’s entries: one he has already, the other is half black and way more competent at what he did.

    I’ve no horse in today’s race. I knew about Jim Thorpe. All in know about John Olver is what I’ve read here.

  9. Phil says:

    I can see John Oliver on TV anytime I want, and I don’t do it very often. He’s funny and informative, I like him, might even consider going to see him, but he’s not going to have anything really surprising to say. But Jim Thorpe! WTF, how is this even a contest. The only people who would choose Oliver in this one are people who have no idea who Jim Thorpe is.

  10. Daniel Shostak says:

    Great athlete
    Multi ethnic
    Burden of success

  11. yyw says:

    Jim Thorpe has a much bigger upside in providing something unique and informative.

  12. Jackson says:

    One comes from a lowly tribe, devastated by the United States, reduced in land holdings over the 19th and 20th centuries, and in modern times only notable for their peculiar ways of living. Nobody wants to hear from that loser, so I’ve gotta go with Thorpe.

  13. Doug says:

    Well, is there a John Oliver, PA? I can already imagine the talk: “What’s in a (Re)name: The Truth, or Consequences, of Location Naming”.

    Also, if I could upvote Jeff’s octothorpe comment, I would.

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