Jim Thorpe is widely considered by American fans to be one of the greatest athletes to have ever walked the Earth. He was of Sac and Fox descent, hailing from Oklahoma. From an early age, Thorpe was dedicated to playing sports. He was an all-star for several All-American Indian teams, and he had a successful tour of barnstorming as a basketball player.
The practice of barnstorming might be foreign to modern audiences because of the ever-present nature of live sports and television. Barnstorming was more like an exhibition match, and it gave players of minority descent a better opportunity to play in various sports they would otherwise not find an audience with. For example, black basketball players frequently played baseball in barnstorm games.
Thorpe would go on to win the Olympic Gold Medals for the pentathlon and decathlon, and he played both professional and collegiate American football. That’s where most of his fame comes from, but Thorpe was really an all-around player who was competent in most sports.
While Thorpe was widely respected throughout his career, he was forced to retire at age 41 when the Great Depression fell into full swing and money for sports dried up. Like most of the populace of the time, Thorpe struggled to find work after that. He never fully recovered and spent the remaining years of his life wrestling with both failing health and increasing alcoholism.
Although Thorpe’s medals were stripped in 1913 for having played professional sports during the time leading up to his Olympic performances, his medals were restored in 1983. Unfortunately, the original medals, which were held in a sports museum, were stolen and never recovered. The reinstated medals also had to be remade.