- Category : Athlete
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 1/4 - Investigating / Opportunist
- Definition : Triple Split
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Sleeping Phoenix 2
James Francis "Jim" Thorpe (Sac and Fox (Sauk): Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as "Bright Path"; May 28, 1888 – March 28, 1953) was an American athlete of both Native American and European ancestry. Considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, he won Olympic gold medals for the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football (collegiate and professional), and also played professional baseball and basketball. He lost his Olympic titles after it was found he was paid for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics, thus violating the amateurism rules. In 1983, 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored his Olympic medals.
Of Native American and European American ancestry, Thorpe grew up in the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma. He played as part of several All-American Indian teams throughout his career, and "barnstormed" as a professional basketball player with a team composed entirely of American Indians.
He played professional sports until age 41, the end of his sports career coinciding with the start of the Great Depression. Thorpe struggled to earn a living after that, working several odd jobs. Thorpe suffered from alcoholism, and lived his last years in failing health and poverty.
In a poll of sports fans conducted by ABC Sports, Thorpe was voted the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century out of 15 other athletes including Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan.
Information about Thorpe's birth, name and ethnic background varies widely. He was born in Indian Territory, but no birth certificate has been found. Thorpe was generally considered born on May 28, 1888, near the town of Prague, Oklahoma. He was baptized "Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe" in the Catholic Church.
Thorpe's parents were both of mixed-race ancestry. His father, Hiram Thorpe, had an Irish father and a Sac and Fox Indian mother. His mother, Charlotte Vieux, had a French father and a Potawatomi mother, a descendant of Chief Louis Vieux. He was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as "path lit by great flash of lightning" or, more simply, "Bright Path". As was the custom for Sac and Fox, he was named for something occurring around the time of his birth, in this case the light brightening the path to the cabin where he was born. Thorpe's parents were both Roman Catholic, a faith which Thorpe observed throughout his adult life.
Thorpe attended the Sac and Fox Indian Agency school in Stroud, Oklahoma, with his twin brother Charlie. Charlie helped him through school until he succumbed to a bout of pneumonia when they were nine years old. He ran away from school several times. His father then sent him to the Haskell Institute, an "Indian" boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, so that he would not run away again. When his mother died of childbirth complications two years later, he became depressed. After several arguments with his father, he left home to work on a horse ranch.
In 1904, the sixteen-year-old Thorpe returned to his father and decided to attend Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There, his athletic ability was recognized and he was coached by Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, one of the most influential coaches of early American football history. Later that year, he became orphaned after Hiram Thorpe died from gangrene poisoning after being wounded in a hunting accident, and Jim again dropped out of school. He resumed farm work for a few years and then returned to Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
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. His earliest recorded track and field results come from 1907. He also competed in football, baseball, lacrosse and even ballroom dancing, winning the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship.
Pop Warner was hesitant to allow Thorpe, his best track and field athlete, to compete in a physical game such as football. Thorpe, however, convinced Warner to let him try some rushing plays in practice against the school team's defense; Warner assumed he would be tackled easily and give up the idea. Thorpe "ran around past and through them not once, but twice". He then walked over to Warner and said "Nobody is going to tackle Jim," while flipping him the ball.
Thorpe gained nationwide attention for the first time in 1911. As a running back, defensive back, placekicker and punter, Thorpe scored all his team's points—four field goals and a touchdown—in an 18–15 upset of Harvard, a top ranked team in those early days of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. His team finished the season 11–1. In 1912 Carlisle won the national collegiate championship largely as a result of his efforts – he scored 25 touchdowns and 198 points during the season.
Carlisle's 1912 record included a 27–6 victory over Army. In that game, Thorpe's 92-yard touchdown was nullified by a teammate's penalty, but on the next play Thorpe rushed for a 97-yard touchdown. Future President Dwight Eisenhower, who played against him that season, recalled of Thorpe in a 1961 speech:
"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."
He was awarded All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912.
Football was - and would remain - Thorpe's favorite sport. He competed only sporadically in track and field, even though this turned out to be the sport in which he gained his greatest fame.
In the spring of 1912, he started training for the Olympics. He had confined his efforts to jumps, hurdles and shot-puts, but now added pole vaulting, javelin, discus, hammer and 56 lb weight. In the Olympic trials held at Celtic Park in New York, his all-round ability stood out in all these events and so he riveted a claim to a place on the team that went to Sweden.
For the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, two new multi-event disciplines were included, the pentathlon and the decathlon. A pentathlon, based on the ancient Greek event, had been introduced at the 1906 Summer Olympics. The 1912 version consisted of the long jump, javelin throw, 200-meter dash, discus throw and 1500-meter run.
The decathlon was a relatively new event in modern athletics, although it had been part of American track meets since the 1880s and a version had been featured on the program of the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. The events of the new decathlon differed slightly from the American version. Both seemed appropriate for Thorpe, who was so versatile that he served as Carlisle's one-man team in several track meets. He could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, the 220 in 21.8 seconds, the 440 in 51.8 seconds, the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35, the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds, and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in. He could pole vault 11 feet, put the shot 47 ft 9 in, throw the javelin 163 feet, and throw the discus 136 feet.
Thorpe entered the U.S. Olympic trials for both the pentathlon and the decathlon. He won the awards easily, winning three events, and was named to the pentathlon team, which also included future International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage. There were only a few candidates for the decathlon team, however, and the trials were cancelled.
His schedule in the Olympics was busy. Along with the decathlon and pentathlon, he competed in the long jump and high jump. The first competition was the pentathlon. He won four of the five events and placed third in the javelin, an event he had not competed in before 1912. Although the pentathlon was primarily decided on place points, points were also earned for the marks achieved in the individual events. He won the gold medal. That same day, he qualified for the high jump final in which he placed fourth, and also took seventh place in the long jump. Even more remarkably, because someone had stolen his shoes just before he was due to compete, he found some discarded ones in a rubbish bin and won his medals wearing them. He is shown in the 1912 photo wearing two different shoes and extra socks because one shoe was too big.
Olympic medal record
Representing the United States
Gold 1912 Stockholm Pentathlon
Gold 1912 Stockholm Decathlon
Thorpe's final event was the decathlon, his first — and as it turned out, his only — Olympic decathlon. Strong competition from local favorite Hugo Wieslander was expected. Thorpe, however, easily defeated Wieslander by more than 700 points. He placed in the top four in all ten events, and his Olympic record of 8,413 points would stand for nearly two decades. Overall, Thorpe won eight of the 15 individual events comprising the pentathlon and decathlon.
As was the custom of the day, the medals were presented to the athletes during the closing ceremonies of the games. Along with the two gold medals, Thorpe also received two challenge prizes, which were donated by King Gustav V of Sweden for the decathlon and Czar Nicholas II of Russia for the pentathlon. Several sources recount that, when awarding Thorpe his prize, King Gustav said, "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world", to which Thorpe replied, "Thanks, King". Contemporary sources from 1912 are lacking, suggesting that the story was apocryphal, however. The anecdote appeared in newspapers as early as 1948, 36 years after his appearance in the Olympics, and in books as early as 1952.
Thorpe's successes had not gone unnoticed at home, and he was honored with a ticker-tape parade on Broadway. He remembered later, "I heard people yelling my name, and I couldn't realize how one fellow could have so many friends."
Apart from his track and field appearances, he also played in one of two exhibition baseball games at the 1912 Olympics, which featured two teams composed of U.S. track and field athletes. It was not Thorpe's first try at baseball, as the public would soon learn.
After his victories at the Olympic Games in Sweden, on September 2, 1912, he returned to Celtic Park, the home of the Irish American Athletic Club, in Queens, New York (where he had qualified four months earlier for the Olympic Games), to compete in the Amateur Athletic Union's All-Around Championship. Competing against Bruno Brodd of the Irish American Athletic Club and J. Bredemus of Princeton University, he won seven of the ten events contested and came in second in the remaining three. With a total point score of 7,476 points, Thorpe broke the previous record of 7,385 points set in 1909, (also set at Celtic Park), by Martin Sheridan, the champion athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club. Sheridan, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, was present to watch his record broken, approached Thorpe after the event and shook his hand saying, "Jim, my boy, you're a great man. I never expect to look upon a finer athlete." He told a reporter from The New York World, "Thorpe is the greatest athlete that ever lived. He has me beaten fifty ways. Even when I was in my prime, I could not do what he did today."
In 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Athletes who received money prizes for competitions, were sports teachers or had competed previously against professionals, were not considered amateurs and were barred from competition.
In late January 1913, the Worcester Telegram published a story announcing that Thorpe had played professional baseball, and other U.S. newspapers followed up the story. Thorpe had indeed played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina, in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay; reportedly as little as US$2 ($49 today) per game and as much as US$35 ($862 today) per week. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally but most used aliases, unlike Thorpe.
Although the public didn't seem to care much about Thorpe's past, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), and especially its secretary James Edward Sullivan, took the case very seriously. Thorpe wrote a letter to Sullivan, in which he admitted playing professional baseball:
..."I hope I will be partly excused by the fact that I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know all about such things. In fact, I did not know that I was doing wrong, because I was doing what I knew several other college men had done, except that they did not use their own names...."
His letter didn't help. The AAU decided to withdraw Thorpe's amateur status retroactively and asked the International Olympic Commission (IOC) to do the same. Later that year, the IOC unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals and awards and declare him a professional.
Although Thorpe had played for money, the AAU and IOC did not follow the rules for disqualification. The rulebook for the 1912 Olympics stated that protests had to be made "within" 30 days from the closing ceremonies of the games. The first newspaper reports did not appear until January 1913, about six months after the Stockholm Games had concluded. There is also some evidence that Thorpe's amateur status had been questioned long before the Olympics, but the AAU had ignored the issue until being confronted with it in 1913.
The only positive element of this affair for Thorpe was that, as soon as the news was reported that he had been declared a professional, he received offers from professional sports clubs.
Baseball free agent
Because the minor league team that last held Jim Thorpe's contract had disbanded in 1910, he found himself in the rare position of being a sought after free agent at the major league level during the era of the reserve clause, and thus had a choice of baseball teams for which to play. In January 1913, he turned down a starting position with the American League cellar-dwelling St. Louis Browns, choosing instead to join the 1912 National League champion New York Giants, who with Thorpe playing in 19 of their 151 games, would repeat as the 1913 National League champions. Immediately following the Giants' October loss in the 1913 World Series, Thorpe and the Giants joined the Chicago White Sox for a world tour. Barnstorming across the United States and then around the world, Thorpe was the celebrity of the tour. Thorpe's presence increased the publicity, attendance and gate receipts for the tour. He met with Pope Pius X and Abbas II Hilmi Bey (the last Khedive of Egypt), and played before 20,000 people in London including King George V. While in Rome, he was filmed wrestling with another baseball player on the floor of the Colosseum (although no known copy of that film has survived).
Baseball, football, and basketball
Thorpe signed with the New York Giants baseball club in 1913 and played sporadically with them as an outfielder for three seasons. After playing in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1916, he returned to the Giants in 1917 but was sold to the Cincinnati Reds early in the season. In the "double no-hitter" between Fred Toney of the Reds and Hippo Vaughn of the Chicago Cubs, Thorpe drove in the winning run in the 10th inning. Late in the season, he was sold back to the Giants. Again, he played sporadically for them in 1918 before being traded to the Boston Braves on May 21, 1919, for Pat Ragan. In his career, he amassed 91 runs scored, 82 runs batted in and a .252 batting average over 289 games. He continued to play minor league baseball until 1922.
But Thorpe had not abandoned football either. He first played professional football in 1913 as a member of the Indiana-based Pine Village Pros, a team that had a several-season winning streak against local teams during the 1910s. He then signed with the Canton Bulldogs in 1915. They paid him $250 ($5,674 today) a game, a tremendous wage at the time. Before signing him Canton was averaging 1,200 fans a game, but 8,000 showed up for his debut against the Massillon Tigers. The team won titles in 1916, 1917, and 1919. He reportedly ended the 1919 championship game by kicking a wind-assisted 95-yard punt from his team's own 5-yard line, effectively putting the game out of reach. In 1920, the Bulldogs were one of 14 teams to form the American Professional Football Association (APFA), which would become the National Football League (NFL) two years later. Thorpe was nominally the APFA's first president, but spent most of the year playing for Canton and a year later was replaced as president by Joseph Carr. He continued to play for Canton, coaching the team as well. Between 1921 and 1923, he helped organize and played for the Oorang Indians (LaRue, Ohio), an all-Native American team. Although the team's record was 3–6 in 1922, and 1–10 in 1923, he played well and was selected for the Green Bay Press-Gazette's first All-NFL team in 1923, which would later be formally recognized by the NFL as the league's official All-NFL team in 1931).
Thorpe never played for an NFL championship team. He retired from professional football at age 41, having played 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928.
Until 2005, most of Thorpe's biographers were unaware of his basketball career until a ticket discovered in an old book that year documented his career in basketball. By 1926, he was the main feature of the "World Famous Indians" of LaRue which sponsored traveling football, baseball and basketball teams. "Jim Thorpe and His World-Famous Indians" barnstormed for at least two years (1927–28) in parts of New York and Pennsylvania as well as Marion, Ohio. Although pictures of Thorpe in his WFI basketball uniform were printed on postcards and published in newspapers, this period of his life was not well documented.
Marriage and family
In 1913, Thorpe married Iva Miller, whom he had met at Carlisle. They had four children: Jim Jr. (who died at age 2), Gale, Charlotte and Grace. Miller filed for divorce from Thorpe in 1925, claiming desertion.
In 1926 Thorpe married Freeda V. Kirkpatrick (September 19, 1905 – March 2, 2007). She was working for the manager of the baseball team for which he was playing at the time. They had four sons: Carl, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, William, Richard and John "Jack". Kirkpatrick divorced Thorpe in 1941 after 15 years of marriage.
Lastly, Thorpe married Patricia Askew, who was with him when he died.
After his athletic career, Thorpe struggled to provide for his family. He found it difficult to work a non-sports-related job and never held a job for an extended period of time. During the Great Depression in particular, he had various jobs, among others as an extra for several movies, usually playing an American Indian chief in Westerns. He also worked as a construction worker, a doorman (bouncer), a security guard and a ditchdigger, and briefly joined the United States Merchant Marine in 1945. Thorpe was a chronic alcoholic during his later life.
He ran out of money sometime in the early 1950s. When hospitalized for lip cancer in 1950, he was admitted as a charity case. At a press conference announcing the procedure, his wife Patricia wept and pleaded for help, saying, "We're broke.... Jim has nothing but his name and his memories. He has spent money on his own people and has given it away. He has often been exploited."
In early 1953, Thorpe went into heart failure for the third time while dining with Patricia in their home in Lomita, California. He was briefly revived by artificial respiration and spoke to those around him, but lost consciousness shortly afterward and died on March 28 at the age of 64.
Thorpe, whose parents were both half Caucasian, was raised as an American Indian. His accomplishments occurred during a period of heavy racial inequality in the United States. It has often been suggested that his medals were stripped because of his ethnicity. While it is difficult to prove this, the public comment at the time largely reflected this view. At the time Thorpe won his gold medals, not all Native Americans were recognized as U.S. citizens. (The U.S. government had wanted them to make concessions to adopt European-American ways to receive such recognition.) Citizenship was not granted to all American Indians until 1924.
While Thorpe attended Carlisle, students' ethnicity was used for marketing purposes. The football team was called the Indians. A photograph of Thorpe and the 1911 football team emphasized racial differences among the competing athletes; the inscription on the most important game ball of that season reads, "1911, Indians 18, Harvard 15." Additionally, the school and journalists often categorized sporting competitions as conflicts of Indians against whites; newspaper headings such as "Indians Scalp Army 27–6" or "Jim Thorpe on Rampage" made stereotypical journalistic play of the Indian background of Carlisle's football team. The first notice of Thorpe in the New York Times was headlined "Indian Thorpe in Olympiad; Redskin from Carlisle Will Strive for Place on American Team." His accomplishments were described in a similar racial context by other newspapers and sportswriters throughout his life.
Olympic awards reinstated
Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. US Olympic officials, including former teammate and later president of the IOC Avery Brundage, rebuffed several attempts, with Brundage once saying, "Ignorance is no excuse." Most persistent were the author Robert Wheeler and his wife, Florence Ridlon. They succeeded in having the AAU and United States Olympic Committee overturn its decision and restore Thorpe's amateur status before 1913.
In 1982, Wheeler and Ridlon established the Jim Thorpe Foundation and gained support from the U.S. Congress. Armed with this support and evidence from 1912 proving that Thorpe's disqualification had occurred after the 30-day time period allowed by Olympics rules, they succeeded in making the case to the IOC. In October 1982, the IOC Executive Committee approved Thorpe's reinstatement. In an unusual ruling, they declared that Thorpe was co-champion with Bie and Wieslander, although both of these athletes had always said they considered Thorpe to be the only champion. In a ceremony on January 18, 1983, the IOC presented two of Thorpe's children, Gale and Bill, with commemorative medals. Thorpe's original medals had been held in museums, but they had been stolen and have never been recovered.
Thorpe's monument, featuring the quote from Gustav V ("You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world."), still stands near the town named for him, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. The grave rests on mounds of soil from Thorpe's native Oklahoma and from the stadium in which he won his Olympic medals.
Thorpe's achievements received great acclaim from sports journalists, both during his lifetime and since his death. In 1950 an Associated Press poll of almost 400 sportswriters and broadcasters voted Thorpe the "greatest athlete" of the first half of the 20th century. That same year, the Associated Press named Thorpe the "greatest American football player" of the first half of the century. In 1999, the Associated Press placed him third on its list of the top athletes of the century, following Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan. ESPN ranked Thorpe seventh on their list of best North American athletes of the century.
Thorpe was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, one of seventeen players in the charter class. Thorpe is memorialized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame rotunda with a larger-than-life statue. He was also inducted into halls of fame for college football, American Olympic teams, and the national track and field competition.
President Richard Nixon, as authorized by U.S. Senate Joint Resolution 73, proclaimed Monday, April 16, 1973, as "Jim Thorpe Day" to promote the nationwide recognition of Thorpe. In 1986, the Jim Thorpe Association established an award with Thorpe's name. The Jim Thorpe Award is given annually to the best defensive back in college football. The annual Thorpe Cup athletics meeting is named in his honor.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Thorpe's widow was angry when the Oklahoma state government would not erect a memorial in his honor. When she heard that the small Pennsylvania towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were desperately seeking to attract business, she made a deal with officials which, according to Thorpe's son Jack, was done by Patricia for monetary considerations.The towns bought Thorpe's remains, erected a monument to him, merged, and renamed the newly united town in his honor Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania even though Thorpe had never been there. The monument site contains his tomb, two statues of him in athletic poses, and historical markers describing his life story.
In June 2010, Jack Thorpe filed a federal lawsuit against the borough of Jim Thorpe, seeking to have his father's remains returned to his homeland and re-interred near other family members in Oklahoma. Citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Jack was arguing to bring his father's remains to the reservation in Oklahoma, where they would be buried near those of his father, sisters and brother, a mile from the place he was born. He claimed that the agreement between his stepmother and Jim Thorpe, Pa., borough officials was made against the wishes of other family members who want him buried in Native American land. Jack Thorpe died at 73 on February 22, 2011.
In April 2013, U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo ruled that Jim Thorpe borough in northeastern Pennsylvania amounts to a museum under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. A lawyer for Bill and Richard Thorpe says the men will pursue the legal process to have their father returned to Sac and Fox land in central Oklahoma.
In the 1930s, Thorpe appeared in several short films and features. Usually, his roles were cameo appearances as an Indian, although in the 1932 comedy, Always Kickin, Thorpe was prominently cast in a speaking part as himself, a kicking coach teaching young football players to drop-kick. In 1931, during the Great Depression, he sold the film rights to his life story to MGM for $1,500 ($23,000 today). The movie included archival footage of the 1912 and 1932 Olympics, as well as a banquet in which Thorpe was honored. Thorpe was seen in some long shots in the film; and one scene showed him as a coaching assistant. It was also distributed in the United Kingdom, where it was called Man of Bronze.
Thorpe was memorialized in the Warner Bros. film Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951) starring Burt Lancaster, with Billy Gray performing as Thorpe as a child. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz. Although there were rumors that Thorpe received no money, he was paid $15,000 by Warner Bros. plus a $2,500 donation toward an annuity for him by the studio head of publicity.
He is mentioned twice in Disney's 1973 film The World's Greatest Athlete.
Thorpe is featured as a ghost figure in the 1994 film WindRunner: A Spirited Journey, where he is portrayed by Russell Means.