Some people may say that Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete ever to pick up a ball.
Some say that Lance Armstrong is the most cardiovascular athlete to ever sit on two wheels.
Some say that Bo Jackson was the greatest two sport athlete ever, even though in college he lettered in three.
The person who many people tend to forget, pass off or not even mention because of the era that he played in was Jim Thorpe.
Jim Thorpe was born to a farmer and Native American women in 1887 on a piece of ground that had a one room cabin on it in Prague, Oklahoma. The actual day of his birth is not known because of records conflicting but the date according to his estate is May 28. He was born a twin but his brother died at age nine.
He was sent away to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania for training in one of the twenty professional trades they offered to Native Americans at the time. While at Carlisle, Thorpe was selected third team All American once in 1908. In 1909 and 1910, he was selected first team All American and his football team was coached by legendary Glenn "Pop" Warner. He also ran track while attending the school.
Thorpe then wowed the world at the 1912 Olympic games winning gold medals in both the decathlon and the pentathlon. When he was awarded his medals from King Gustav V, before Thorpe could walk away, the king grabbed his arm and said "you are the greatest athlete in the world." Thorpe was a simple man that did not speak much so his reply to the King was short, sweet and to the point. "Thanks King."
Even though he was the "greatest athlete in the world," his accomplishments at the Olympic games were taken away from him because of his previous experience playing semi-professional baseball where he once hit three home runs in the same game into three different states. Sounds impossible, but it isn't. Thorpe was playing a game at a field at the borders of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. He hit a home run over each wall, (left, center and right) sending them each into a different state.
This publicity brought Thorpe some good fortune however, signing with the New York Baseball Giants whom he played for from 1913-1916. He then played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1917 playing most of the season with them before returning to the Giants to finish the season. He finished his career, Babe Ruth style, by joining the Boston Braves in 1919. Hitting .252 for his career, seven home runs and eighty two RBI. He had a lifetime .947 fielding percentage, which matches the lifetime fielding percentage of the great "Flying Dutchman" Honus Wagner.
While playing baseball Thorpe also took part in professional football. Where he played a total of fifty-two career games from 1920-1928 for six different teams. He threw four touchdown passes and ran for six. Becoming one of two people in history to play for both the New York Baseball and Football Giants.
After he retired from professional sports at the age of 41, Thorpe became the first President of, what is now, the National Football League. He then passed away in 1953. His wife had his monument built in Pennsylvania where the town changed their name to Jim Thorpe, Pa.
If he were alive today I would love to be able to shake the hand and say what is etched on his gravestone,"Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world."
For more information about Jim Thorpe please view this website: http://www.cmgww.com/sports/thorpe/index.php