Jim Thorpe, stripped of his 1912 gold medals because he had been paid to play minor league baseball, was reinstated on Thursday as the sole winner of this year’s Olympic doubles and pentathlon by the International Olympic Committee.
Thorpe, named the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century by the Associated Press, won tikamp and pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics. But because he had played minor league baseball in 1909-10 – and earned reported $ 2 per. match to $ 35 per. week – he was deprived of the medals in 1913 for violating the existing amateur rules. The Amateur Athletic Union in the United States withdrew Thorpe’s amateur status, and the IOC unanimously deprived Thorpe of being a professional.
The decision has been controversial ever since, especially for Native American communities. Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, and was the first Native American to win a gold medal.
After years of lobbying, the IOC’s executive committee reinstated Thorpe in October 1982, but said he was co-champion with Hugo Wieslander (tikamp) and Ferdinand Bie (pentathlon). On Thursday, he was restored as sole champion.
“This is a very unusual and unique situation,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “It is taken up by an extraordinary gesture of fair play from the relevant National Olympic Committees.”
“We are so grateful that his nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been rectified and there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history,” said Nedra Darling, co-founder of Bright Path Strong, a group set up to share Indigenous American voices and a leading organization that fought for Thorpe – who died in 1953 – to regain his medals. She is also a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.
“Jim Thorpe is a hero across the Indian country and he is an American hero,” she said. “He represented this country before it even recognized Indians as citizens, and he did so with humility and grace. Even after being wronged by his coach, the American Athletic Union and many others, he never gave in to bitterness and led with a “Spirit of generosity and kindness. I pray that Jim, his family, and our ancestors celebrate the truth that has been told today, on this 110th anniversary of Jim being awarded his Olympic gold medals.”
A petition on the Bright Path Strong website, which asked the IOC to reinstate Thorpe as sole champion in both events, drew 75,000 signatures.
The news of Thorpe’s reinstatement was first reported by Indian Country Today.
Thorpe played professional baseball with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves. He returned to football with the Canton Bulldogs and was a member of the NFL’s first decade team in 1931. He retired from professional football in 1928 at the age of 41, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.