When it comes to all-around excellence in athletic endeavors, Jim Thorpe stands tall. In 1999 the Associated Press placed him third on its list of top athletes of the century, behind only Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan.
Thorpe excelled not in one sport, but in many. He made a name for himself in track and field, professional basketball and football, as well as Major League Baseball, persevering despite racism and personal difficulty.
Though sports came easy for Thorpe, life did not. James Francis Thorpe was born a twin, but lost his brother to pneumonia when he was 9 years old. His mother died of childbirth complications just two years later. His father passed away after a hunting accident when Thorpe was 16 and attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Thorpe was raised in the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma. Despite the hardships of his youth, he lived up to his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translated as "Bright Path."
His brilliant athletic career began at the Carlisle School. Though football was his favorite sport—earning him All-American honors in 1911 and 1912—he did not stop there. He competed in baseball, lacrosse, track and field, and even ballroom dancing, winning the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship.
Indeed, 1912 was a big year for Thorpe. He became famous overnight with his outstanding performance at the Stockholm Olympics, where he won the gold medal for both the decathlon and pentathlon. Reportedly, as King Gustav of Sweden awarded Thorpe his medals, he said “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”
Alas, in 1913, Thorpe’s medals were stripped from him when the committee discovered he had played minor league baseball prior to competing in the Olympics, therefore violating the amateur regulations. After vigorous opposition to this ruling, in 1983 Thorpe’s medals, and his name, were reinstated in the record books.
Thorpe went on to play Major League Baseball, professional football, and basketball, where he led an all-American Indian team. He played for various MLB teams and finished his career with a .252 batting average, 91 runs scored and 82 runs batted in. Likewise Thorpe played for six different NFL teams. He even coached one of his teams, the Canton Bulldogs, while still a player. Thorpe’s talent did not go unnoticed—he was selected to the first All-NFL team in 1923.
The sheer excellence with which Thorpe performed every sport he ever competed in is an inspiration to many. Undoubtedly, Jim Thorpe is one of the greatest athletes this world has ever seen.
Excellence. Pass It On!
This billboard about Excellence features Jim Thorpe (1888-1953); athlete, Olympic Gold Medalist.
Pass It On®
Gena from Dawsonville ga JANUARY 5, 2022
June Thorpe what a guy
Mike F from Calimesa, Ca MARCH 27, 2014
How did he finish 3rd? He should be #1 :(
someone from somewhere MARCH 13, 2014
john h. from palestine tx. MAY 2, 2012
On the trip to Sweden for the olympic games a sports writer asked the coach where the team was. The coach pointed to Jim Thorpe who was lounging in a deck chair and said "There he is".
I would reccomend the movie, "Jim Thorpe All American starring Burt Lancaster. A true all American hero.
john h from palestine tx. MAY 2, 2012
I read somewhere that when King Gustav proclaimed Jim thorpe the greatest athelete in the word he responded,"Thanks King".
Christina D from Decatur Central MARCH 22, 2012
I think we need more people like Jim Thorpe. If we were to have excellence everyday, everybody would turn this world into a world full of success.Jim Thorpe didnt just show excellence in just one sport, but multiple and that's really good!
morgan p. from decatur MARCH 22, 2012
Jasmin from Nebraska MAY 4, 2011
Cool. Jim Thorpe!
jake from mi JANUARY 31, 2011
jim from wisconsin JANUARY 31, 2011
Carlyyy from Michigan JANUARY 31, 2011
I love this story it reminds me of my DAD,[:
Debie R from California JANUARY 27, 2011
I read all the comments, they brought tears to my eyes. This billboard is special to me because these days, a "good" indian is often rated by how much casino $$ recieved. It shows as a great reminder of the things our native people have overcome and truely thrived. What a great story about a great man. I drive by the sign daily on the way to work. So many times I tried to remember to look this up as I hadn't heard of him or his story until today, I feel priviledged to now have learned this inspirational life story. He was also very handsome<>;)
Mike K. from Minocqua, WI DECEMBER 29, 2010
Jim Thorpe is my grandfather, and I was involved in giving permission to use his image on the billboard. It was an honor for our entire family to see him posted so prominent\ly in front of the many thousands of Americans who revere his name and accomplishments. ESPN's naming him the 6th greatest athlete of the century was a sorry indication of their ability to accurately assess the sports world. The fans on Wide World of Sports named him No. 1. Leave it to the folks on the street. They know better than anyone else, especially those sports mavens on television who seek only sensationalism. We thank everyone in this column for their warm and genuine comments. Needless to say, his family agrees with all of you!
Jon P. from Penna. SEPTEMBER 2, 2010
My great grandfather was a Sac and Fox Indian and went to Carlisle Indian school. I was thrilled to see Jim Thorpe's picture and the honor due him. Also, I like the title "World's Greatest Athlete." My Indian name is "Eagle Helps Him."
claude I. from NE JULY 30, 2010
My name is Claude Iron Thunder! I am a member of the Ponca Tribe Of Nebraska. I live in Lincoln, NE. I commute to Omaha for work and see this billboard everyday! It makes me proud to be Native American - "PONCA PRIDE"!
Katey L from Washington, D.C. JUNE 7, 2010
Great to see this Thorpe poster in a bus stop! What an inspiration he was and is and kudos to Values.com for honoring him.
Lisa Marie O. from Lena, WI JANUARY 16, 2010
I loved seeing this billboard, it reminds me of being in Glacier National Park, Montana, hearing a song about Jim Thorpe from Jack Gladstone. I never heard of Jim Thorpe till then, and never realized his true success. If you like Jim Thorpe look up his song, its on the Buffalo Cafe CD.
C. W. from Pasadena, CA JANUARY 7, 2010
I love this billboard. Thorpe was the greatest athlete of all time. Period. He would beat entire track teams single handedly. In the 1912 Olympics, he competed in 17 events--a record that will never be broken. He was the most dominant NFL player of his era, played pro baseball and basketball and won 2 Olympic gold medals--including the decathlon. Who can top that?!!!
Darcy N. from Washington, DC DECEMBER 31, 2009
"All American. Native American" is right! I absolutely love walking by this billboard in downtown DC. Jim Thorpe is a real hero that can inspire American youth of all ethnicities.
Kelly G. from San Jose, California DECEMBER 21, 2009
As as Native American I am proud to see this billboard everyday on my way to work.
Melissa B. from Washington, DC. DECEMBER 9, 2009
I grew up hearing his name and his greatness and recently read a book about his life and am now even in more awe of how much of a inspiration he is to this country, Indian country!!
Ken S. from York, PA NOVEMBER 28, 2009
Jim Thorpe IS the greatest athlete of all time. The fact that he is only listed as the third best athlete of this century is an insult.
Bo N. from Los Angeles OCTOBER 12, 2009
Jim Thorpe has always been a special icon to me, I am half Lipan Apache, love American football and had always looked to him as a hero in my life. I was also a very gifted athlete and tried to conduct myself and my life the way he did his. One year in college I was going through a very difficult period, I was far from my family and I was very depressed from what was happening in my life. I walked into a room at school I had never been to before, there were hundreds of pictures on a wall of great people who had something to do with that school. I was drawn to the middle for some reason and looked up, to my amazement there was a picture of Jim Thorpe, I had not known, but he had been a back field football coach at that school for a couple of years. I stood there for a very long time, it seemed I had been brought to that room and to that location to see my hero's photo at a time I was in need of help and guidance. I straightened up and stood tall before his photo, thanked him for coming into my life and helping me when I needed it the most and told him I would never forget him or that moment. His spirit and photo brought me to it at my darkest time and saved my life.
garrett s from burnt hills OCTOBER 8, 2009
amazing what position did he play?
Winston M. from Provo, Utah OCTOBER 3, 2009
Babe Ruth was a great baseball player and Michael Jordan was a great basketball player; however, they each excelled in only one sport. Jim Thorpe excelled in every sport he participated in. King Gustav had it right, let's live with it.
Kyra B. from Michigan SEPTEMBER 30, 2009
Holly J. from Los Angeles, CA SEPTEMBER 24, 2009
Seeing his poster at a bus stop in Westminster, Orange County, CA brought tears to my eyes, especially after many here ask me, "What is an American Indian?" We live on.
Tony S. from Janesville, MN JULY 20, 2009
It was great to see Jim Thorpe's picture up on the billboard. Hopefully some of the young will learn who he was, the greatest athlete ever.
Ron J. from Topeka, KS JULY 7, 2009
Jim Thorpe is without a doubt the greatest athlete this world has ever known. An inspiration to all athletes no matter what sport.
Len L. from Harveys Lake,PA JULY 4, 2009
I drive past this billboard on the Pennsylvania Turnpike within a few miles of the town named for Jim Thorpe. What an inspiration!
Rebecca W. from Arizona JUNE 2, 2009
I was proud to see this man on a billboard. He was the greatest Native American athlete ever and I'm happy he's finally getting some exposure. I hope he continues to inspire the Native American youth to become great.
Alex P. from Brookings MAY 19, 2009
He inspires us all in different ways.
Devon P. from Brookings Or. MAY 19, 2009
He's not one of, he IS the greatest athlete of all time by far.
Jacob F. from Brookings MAY 19, 2009
I read about Jim Thorpe a year ago and I think he is one of the best athletes I have heard of in the 1900's.
Jaclyn F. from Savannah APRIL 19, 2009
Being from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, I grew up learning about Jim Thorpe. He was an inspiration for overcoming obstacles and doing great things. Now living in Savannah, Georgia, and seeing the billboard with his picture I am reminded of his greatness. It's an encouragement now during a time of change in my life.