Thorpe—whose Native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, means Bright Path—was a sports superstar in the early 1900s. He was celebrated on the world stage for his Olympic triumph and welcomed home with a ticker tape parade in New York City. Already a top college football athlete, he went on to play professional football and baseball.
But life off the field was anything but easy for Thorpe. Growing up as a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation, he faced discrimination because of his heritage. He was sent to schools designed to strip Native children and teens of their culture. And, like most Native Americans, he was denied U.S. citizenship until 1924.
Thorpe’s supporters say that such discrimination carried over into his Olympics controversy. In 1913, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took away Thorpe’s medals and erased his records because he had earned some money playing minor-league baseball a few years earlier. This violated the IOC’s amateurism rules at that time, which didn’t allow professional athletes to compete in the Olympics.