A petition regarding Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win Olympic gold in U.S. history, has been making the rounds online. At the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Thorpe won two golds — in the pentathlon and the decathlon — only to have them taken away by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1913. He was stripped of his medals because the IOC discovered he had played minor league baseball before the Stockholm Games, meaning he had technically not been an amateur athlete when competing in Sweden. The IOC eventually reinstated Thorpe as “co-champion” in both events, but this petition was created to have him renamed as the sole pentathlon and decathlon gold medallist from 1912.
Every day we are getting closer and closer to having 50K signatures to reinstate #NativeAmerican #Olympian Jim Thorpe's historic sole victory record. Join us – sign our #petition https://t.co/VuBs00jdbV
— Bright Path Strong (@OurBrightPath) August 19, 2020
Thorpe’s athletic history
Thorpe was an incredible athlete. To compete (and have success) in the decathlon would be impressive enough, but he also played baseball, football, lacrosse and basketball, excelling at each of these sports. He played in the Eastern Carolina baseball league before becoming an Olympian, and after the 1912 Games, he returned to the sport and played for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds. He also represented the U.S. at the 1912 Olympics in baseball, which was an exhibition sport that year.
In addition to professional baseball, Thorpe played pro football, and he helped found what is now the NFL. He was the league’s first president, and he is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As reported in a 2012 story in the Washington Post, Thorpe won eight of the 15 events that he competed in at the Stockholm Games, prompting King Gustaf V of Sweden to tell him, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”
Do you know the real story of the “World’s Greatest Athlete?” Watch: https://t.co/iPzzMzgCXW
— Bright Path Strong (@OurBrightPath) August 14, 2020
The IOC stripped Thorpe of his medals in 1913, and they weren’t reinstated until 1983, three decades after his death. Even then, Thorpe was only credited as a co-champion in the pentathlon and decathlon, a title which still stands today, and that is what the petition is looking to change.
“Native Americans have been invariably impacted by the ever-climbing barriers and setbacks of racism in the U.S., and the world of sports is no different,” the website reads. “To call Jim Thorpe a co-champion in his events isn’t just inaccurate, it stands as a painful reminder of the deep inequities even the most triumphant athletes of colour have faced.” The petition — which is called Bright Path Strong in honour of Thorpe’s Native American name, Wa-Tho-Huk — has more than 42,000 signatures and can be viewed here.