The Greatest Athlete
A little about why Jim Thorpe earned the title “The Greatest Athlete” Limited Edition tees are coming…
In many ways, Jim Thorpe was far more than merely a profoundly talented athlete; he was the face of a ground-breaking transition in the history of both American and international sports. As the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal, Thorpe continues to be an icon and source of inspiration for countless young Native Americans – particularly those with athletic ambitions.
Born to a humble family on an Oklahoma reservation to a Sac and Fox father and a Potawatomi mother, Thorpe’s childhood was never an easy one. His early years were defined by frequent truancy from school; and before he reached adulthood, he would experience, in succession, the death of his twin brother to pneumonia, his mother to childbirth, and his father to blood poisoning.
This tumultuous start to his life, however, slowly began to turn around once Thorpe began attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania at the age of sixteen. It was here that his considerable athletic abilities would draw the attention of Glenn “Pop” Warner, now considered one of the most influential figures in the history of American football coaching.
An oft-repeated story tells of how Thorpe first drew Warner’s attention when, during an impromptu session at the school’s high jump course, he managed a jump that shattered the school’s record while still in his work clothes. Since then, however, it became increasingly clear that Thorpe’s talents were most decidedly not limited to any particular form of track or field. The early years of outdoor rigour in the wilds of his reservation birthplace had fostered the growth of his physical capabilities; and throughout his time at Carlisle, Thorpe excelled at baseball, lacrosse, track and field, and even ballroom dancing, foreshadowing his legacy as one of the most versatile modern sportsmen. His favourite sport, however, would always be football; and before he left Carlisle, Thorpe’s contributions to the school’s football team were largely responsible for its victory in the collegiate championship.
From there, Thorpe experienced a rapid upward movement; and only a few short years after he left Carlisle, he would find himself in Stockholm, representing the USA in the 1912 Summer Olympics. His schedule in the games was a busy one, but would conclude with him winning two gold medals – bestowed upon him by King Gustav V himself – for the pentathlon and decathlon, both new additions to the Olympic programme.
Of course, even after this considerable achievement, Thorpe’s life and career were not without tumult. A few months after receiving his medals, it was discovered that, just prior to competing, Thorpe had played professional baseball, thus qualifying him as a pro athlete. Given that only amateur athletes were considered eligible for the Olympics at the time, the International Olympic Committee unanimously voted to strip Thorpe of his medals and titles. This decision was a highly controversial one, and several decades after Thorpe’s death, the ICO restored his medals and status; but it is often believed that this decision had a noteworthy impact on Thorpe’s recognition as a sports icon.
Nonetheless, Thorpe embraced his new title as a pro athlete, entering into the major leagues, and playing baseball for, among others, the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Red, and football for the Canton bulldogs. By the time he passed away in March of 1953, Thorpe had left an indelible mark on the American sporting landscape.
Naturally, being the icon that he is, Thorpe’s story is one that has been told multiple times – most notably in the 1951 film Jim Thorpe – All American, in which he was portrayed by Burt Lancaster. However, Thorpe’s iconic status has not wavered a bit in the decades since; and as a result, a fresh filmic adaptation of his life is just around the corner, set to be titled Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story. Deriving its title from Thorpe’s native name, Wa-Tho-Huk– translated as “a path illuminated by a great flash of lightning”, but often simplified to “Bright Path” – the film will be produced by Angelina Jolie, with Martin Sensmeier set to star as Thorpe. Sensmeier, born in Alaska and of mixed Tlingit, Koyukon and Athabaskan descent, rose to prominence in recent years with his starring roles in the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven and the hit HBO TV series Westworld.
A number of Indian Country tribes, as well as members of Thorpe’s family, have been approached by the producers to help finance the film and ensure its accuracy and authenticity.
The film’s announcement has been met with considerable enthusiasm by tribal representatives, who have hailed it as a promising opportunity to bring the legacy of an iconic Native individual, as well as the experiences of the modern Native people in general, to the attention of the American public.
“As Native Americans, it is crucial that we tell our own stories,” said Kevin Brown (“Red Eagle”), chairman of the Mohegan tribe. “Thorpe’s is a vital one, and Bright Path will break barriers. For the first time, a major motion picture about a Native man, starring a Native man, will be made and released to a broad general audience. We couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.”
“At its core, Bright Path is a powerful human rights story,” said Robert Williamson, clan leader of the Sac and Fox Nation, among which Thorpe was raised.“It will help the nation understand our people and our struggle.”
And to coincide with this fresh emergence of Jim Thorpe’s iconic legacy into the public conscience, a fresh range of Jim Thorpe shirts will be released to commemorate this legendary sportsman. Help ring in the new Jim Thorpe craze by purchasing one of the new tees soon to be released!