James Francis Thorpe, also known as Wa-tho-huck meaning “bright future”, was born on May 22, 1887 in a small cabin in Oklahoma. Throughout his life, he excelled in multiple sports including football, baseball, and track and field. Thorpe is widely acknowledged as one of the most extraordinary athletes of the 20th century.
In 1907, during his first year at Carlisle Indian School, Thorpe showcased exceptional talent in football and track. Pop Warner, the coach for these sports, took notice of his skills. Despite being a member of the varsity football team, Thorpe chose to leave the school in 1909. He went to North Carolina where he worked as a farmhand and played semiprofessional baseball simultaneously.
However, Thorpe returned to Carlisle in 1911 and rejoined the football team as a halfback. His remarkable contributions were crucial in securing victories against formidable opponents nationwide. As a result, he was chosen for the All-American team in both 1911 and 1912.
Furthermore, during this period Thorpe excelled in numerous other sports including track and field, baseball, lacrosse, basketball, ice hockey , swimming , boxing tennis ,and archery.
Thorpe, a member of the United States track and field team at the 1912 Olympic Games, became famous as the world’s greatest all-around athlete after winning both the pentathlon and decathlon. However, in early 1913, his amateur status was taken away by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) when they discovered his participation in semiprofessional baseball. This led to Thorpe’s Olympic victories being declared invalid. After Thorpe passed away, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) restored his amateur status and returned his two Olympic medals in 1982.
Thorpe had a successful career in professional baseball, playing for the New York Giants and the Boston Braves from 1913 to 1919. However, his lack of skill as a hitter ultimately led to his retirement.
In 1915, he founded the Bulldogs, a football team based in Canton, Ohio. He achieved remarkable success with the Bulldogs and other teams before retiring from football in 1929.
After retiring from football, Thorpe pursued acting and took on minor roles in movies. Additionally, he delivered lectures on Native American culture.
During World War II, Thorpe served as a seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine.
In 1950, nearly 400 American sportswriters and broadcasters voted Thorpe as the greatest all-around athlete and football player of the first half of the 20th century. His accomplishments earned him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
Jim Thorpe’s impact on American history is still honored even after his death on March 28, 1953. He is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest athletes and many media outlets and publications continue to celebrate his legacy. Pennsylvania pays tribute to him by naming a town after him. Moreover, ESPN includes him in their esteemed list of the “50 greatest athletes of the 20th century.” The worldwide remembrance of Jim Thorpe ensures that future generations will continue to hear and share his incredible stories.