One of the people who can be regarded as a hero in American history in the field of sport is one of the most versatile athlete, Jim Thorpe. More specifically, in ‘19912 Jim Thorpe became the only person ever to win both the Olympic Pentathlon and Decathlon events’ (Reising). Apart from this, ‘he recorded 11,2 seconds in the 100-meter dash which remained unequaled until 1948’ (Jenkins 1), and which is a very remarkable result. Given the deep racial inequality and xenophobia that characterized American society at that time of American history, and was fully reflected in the area of sports, Jim Thorpe can be viewed as a person who contributed to breaking of social stereotypes regarding the white race superiority.
When discussing Jim Thorpe’s career path and professional achievemets, it is important to stress a focus on his ethnicity. Namely, he was a Sac and Fox athlete from the Native American and European ethnical background. Apart from this, both of his parents were partly Caucasian. In order to acquire a better understanding of the difficulties that Jim Thorpe had faced, it is important to refer to the peculiarities of the historical period he lived in. The first half of XX century was characterized by the high level of racism in the social life of the country that also had its reflection in the area of sports. More specifically, Bradbury argues that there was a strong institutional racism that often excluded racial minorities from the participation in sports. He goes further to state that ‘practices of institutional racism were underpinned by patterns of white hegemonic privilege embedded within the pre-existing core structures of decision-making bodies at the highest level’ of sports (296). Jim Thorpe managed to excel in sports, despite the apparent challenge. In public discourses, he is often viewed as ‘a champion and a fighter throughout his life’ (Reising), given that his sport career demanded a lot of strength and determination, partly due to his ethnic status.
When discussing the figure of Jim Thorpe, it is also important to mention the controversies concerning his loss of his Olympic titles. Back then, only amateurs were allowed to participate in the Olympic Games. Upon Jim Thorpe’s winery in the Olympics, it was found that he used to play baseball for money, which, according to the rules, was considered the ‘professional sport’. According to the decision made by International Olympic Commission, Jim Thorpe was disqualified and striped of his Olympic titles. There are a lot of controversies in regard of this decision. It is claimed that International Olympic Commission did not follow the rules of disqualification, and the very fact that Jim Thorpe used to be involved in professional sport was debatable. It is also argued that Jim Thorpe’s ethnical background has contributed to the decision made by International Olympic Commission, and thus symbolizes racial prejudice in the field of sport.
In conclusion, it is important to note that structure of American society of the first half of XX century had the deeply entrenched racial inequality, intolerance and xenophobia. This peculiarity of that time that can also to some extent be observed in the US today was also reflected in American sport. Jim Thorpe can thus be regarded as a hero, given that he managed to excel in sports, regardless of the invisible obstacles that he had faced. It is logical to assume that it demanded a lot of efforts, determination, and persistency. By his example he managed to show that racial stereotypes that emphasized the superiority of white people in all spheres of social life can be successfully broken.
- Bradbury, Steven. “Institutional Racism, Whiteness And The Under-Representation Of Minorities In Leadership Positions In Football In Europe.” Soccer & Society 14.3 (2013): 296-314.
- Jenkins, Sally. “Greatest Olympic Athlete? Jim Thorpe, Not Usain Bolt. (Cover Story).” Indian Life 33.2 (2012): 1-3
- Reising, Robert. Jim Thorpe, The Story Of An American Indian. n.p.: 1974.