Thorpe was arguably the greatest athlete
of the last century, with Olympic glory
and success on the football
Thorpe (DOB: 5/28/1887 or 1888 in Oklahoma; there's been disputes over his birth), whose blood was mostly American Indian, first came to prominence on the college football fields, earning All-American honors at Carlisle Indian School (in Pennsylvania) in 1911 and 1912.
Thorpe competed in the 1912 Olympics, held in Stockholm, Sweden. There, Thorpe won both the pentathlon and decathlon, prompting King Gustav V of Sweden to proclaim "sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world".
However, the next year Thorpe was stripped of his gold medals, when it was revealed that he had previously been paid to play minor league baseball (thus meaning he wasn't an amateur, violating Olympic rules). This in itself wasn't a major crime, as many others did similar in those times, but Thorpe foolishly used his real name, instead of an alias.
Thorpe went on to play professional baseball and football. He was mediocre in baseball, playing 6 seasons (1913-1919; he did not play in 1916), batting only .252 with 7 homers in 698 career at bats. However, he was much more successful on the gridiron, playing for various teams from 1915 through 1928, during the early years of professional football. In fact, Thorpe was the first president of the American Professional Football Association, which went on to become the NFL. Football statistics for this period are very sketchy.
In 1950, the Associated Press named Thorpe the greatest football player of the previous half-century and also the greatest male athlete of the previous half-century.
The next year, Thorpe was the subject of the movie "Jim Thorpe - All American", with Burt Lancaster playing him.
Jim Thorpe died of a heart attack on March 28, 1953 and was buried in East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania (in 1955, East Mauch Chunk and neighboring Mauch Chunk merged and renamed the town Jim Thorpe).
In 1963, Thorpe was one of the initial inductees into the new Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. (Thorpe played part of his pro football career in Canton. In addition, the APFA was founded in Canton.)
The fight to reinstate Thorpe's gold medals continued for decades after his death. Finally, in 1983, the International Olympic Committee reinstated Thorpe as an amateur at the time and gave replicas of his medals to his family.
In 1999, ESPN's SportsCentury named Thorpe the 7th greatest North American athlete of the 20th century.