Jim Thorpe Biographical Information
Jim Thorpe began his athletic career at Carlisle Indian Industrial School. His earliest
track and field results are from 1907. Thorpe also competed in football, baseball,
lacrosse and won the 1912 inter-collegiate ballroom dancing championship. Jim
became a track star at Carlisle, but he wanted to play football as well. Glenn Scobey
“Pop” Warner, the school’s football and track coach and athletic director, was
reluctant to let Jim play football. However, Jim persisted, and Warner let him
participate in one practice thinking the physical nature of the game would turn
Jim away. The exact opposite happened, and Jim excelled on the football field.
He gained national attention in 1911 when Carlisle upset Harvard 18-15. Jim scored
all of Carlisle’s points, four field goals and a touchdown.
Football was his favorite sport, and the sport he focused on the most while at Carlisle.
He led Carlisle to the 1912 national collegiate championship, scoring 25 touchdowns
and 198 points as a running back, defensive back, placekicker and punter. Jim was
awarded first team All-American honors in 1911 and 1912.
Native American Boarding Schools had been used by the US government as a way to
both educate and control Native Americans. The purpose of many 18th century Indian
schools was to strip Native Americans of their native culture, language and religion, and
re-educate them in white culture, language and religion. Some Native Americans willingly
sent their children, but many children were forced to leave their homeland and families
and travel thousands of miles to boarding schools across the country. One of the largest
and most famous was Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Richard Henry Pratt created Carlisle following his experience in the army. Pratt served
with the Tenth Cavalry in Indian Territory. It was this experience with the “Buffalo Sold-
iers” that led Pratt to believe that every man, no matter what his race, should have equal
privilege for development. Pratt was not a multi-culturist, but like most men of his day,
he believed that white culture was superior to that of minorities. He also believed that all
races had the right to education, and most 18th century schools did not allow minorities
to attend. So, he created an institution that would educate the American Indian using
military organization and Western culture as a basis.
Two new multi-discipline events were on the program at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. The pentathlon consisted of the long jump, the javelin throw, 200-meter dash, discus throw and the 1500-meter run. The other event was the decathlon. It consisted of ten events, 100-meter race, broad jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter race, 110-meter high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and the 1500-meter race. These events suited Thorpe’s skills perfectly. He held a record in every event. Along with these events, Thorpe also competed in the long-jump and high jump competitions finishing seventh and fourth in these events.
Jim won gold in the pentathlon tripling the score of the runner-up. He then went on to set an Olympic record winning the gold in the decathlon scoring 8,413 points, a score that stood for two decades. The first day of the decathlon was held in a driving rain storm. Jim battled the elements and finished the day in first, a position he never relinquished. When presented his gold medal for the decathlon, King Gustav V of Sweden stated “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”
Jim Thorpe first played professional football in 1913 with the Pine Valley Pros in Indiana. Thorpe signed with the Canton Bulldogs in 1915. They paid him $250 a game, a very large salary for the time. In addition to his great ability, Canton also gained the most recognized name in sports. Thorpe led Canton to unofficial world titles in 1916, 1917 and 1919. Canton was one of 14 teams organized into the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, which would become the National Football League (NFL).
Thorpe served as the APFA’s first president while playing for Canton. Thorpe not only played for Canton, but he also coached the team from1921-1923. Jim also played for LaRue, Ohio, the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants and the Oorang Indians an all-Native American team. Jim played well and was selected to the first All-NFL team in 1923. He retired from football at the age of 42. Statistical records for professional football during these early years are incomplete, but newspaper accounts credit Thorpe as one of the finest players in the league during his playing days. In 1928, while playing
professional football with the Chicago Cardinals, 42-year-old Jim Thorpe retired from
professional athletics. He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
After his amateur status was removed, Jim Thorpe had one professional option, baseball.
At the time baseball was the only established professional sport in the United States.
Declared a free agent, he had his pick of baseball teams to play for. He chose the New
York Giants. Thorpe signed with the Giants in 1913 and played as a reserve for the club
until 1917 when he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. Late in the 1917 season he was sold
back to the Giants and played sparingly for the club until he was traded to the Boston
Braves in 1919.
Thorpe’s career numbers were average. He scored 91 runs, had 82 runs batted in, and
finished his major league career with a .252 batting average over 289 games. Though
Thorpe’s major league career ended in 1919, he continued to play minor league ball
Biographical information provided by the Jim Thorpe Games website: http://jimthorpegames.com/
When presented his gold medal for the decathlon, King Gustav V of Sweden stated “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world,” Thorpe replied, “Thanks, King.”