Sunday, May 22, 2016

Native American Biography: Jim Thorpe: Athlete

Canton Bulldogs
Miss-matched socks and shoes, 1912 Olympics
An argument could be made for Jim Thorpe as the greatest American athlete of all time.  He could do so many things and do them well.  He is of Sauk and Fox descent, and the great-grandson of Black Hawk, The Chippewa War Chief.  Both his parents were half Caucasian but he was raised in an Indian household.  He began his career on the football field, playing for "Pop" Warner at Carlisle Institute.  He then played semi-professional baseball (he was paid to play) a couple years and then returned to Carlisle for football.  In 1912 his football team won the national championship with an 11-1 record.  Thorpe played running back, defensive back, punted and kicked.  He scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points.  President Eisenhower, while a youth played against Thorpe, playing for Army.  Of Thorpe he said, "Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw." In the game he ran a 93 yard touchdown, called back for a penalty, and he ran 97 yards for a touchdown the next play.  At the 1912 Olympics he showed his versatility.  He won the pentathlon and the decathlon.  He not only won the events but dominated.  Taking first in 8 of the 15 individual events.  He also competed well in the long jump and the high jump.  An interesting side note, Thorpe's shoes were stolen.  He competed in the decathlon in shoes he found in a trash can.  Because they were mismated, he wore heavy socks on one foot so they would fit.  He was also given two special awards, by the King of Sweden and the Czar of Russia.  Upon given him the award the Kind of Sweden reportedly said, "You are the Greatest Athlete in the World."  Thorpe replied, "Thanks Coach."  (This maybe anecdotal but the feeling was accurate.)  Thorpe was greeted by a ticker tape New York parade upon his return to America.  Later his gold medals were taken away because of his time playing professional baseball.  They were returned to his family in 1982.
With the New York Giant
He played basketball, baseball and football professionally, and retired in 1929.  He organized a professional Indian football team at one point, and although they didn't win many games, Thorpe played well and was honored as an all league player in the league which became the NFL.  DUring his career, when racial issues were prevalent, his race was sometimes an issue, particularly in the newspapers.  The papers would say such things as He passed away in Lomita, California in 1953.

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