The Sad Story Of Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe was an American Indian who was the star of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, where the Swedish King famously told him, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world".

Thorpe had grown up on the Sac and Fox Indian reservation in Oklahoma and then, as a teenager, was sent 1,500 miles away to a boarding school in Pennsylvania, whose purpose was to 'civilise' Indian children by eradicating their culture.

Its motto was 'Kill the Indian and Save the Man'. His remains are still in Pennsylvania where they are disputed by the Catholic Church and the Sac-Fox.

He's often described as the 'first international sporting superstar'. But in 1913 it came out that he had been paid a few dollars to play minor-league baseball, and the elite amateurs who ran in the US athletics rushed to condemn him as a professional. He was stripped of his medals.

He went on to become the first great professional football player, but he could never cope with fame and died in near poverty in 1953. His widow arranged for him to be buried in a small town in Pennsylvania which offered to build a memorial to him. The town even changed its name to 'Jim Thorpe', but his Indian tribe are pursuing a legal battle to have his remains returned to Oklahoma.

Producer: Mark Whitaker
A Square Dog Radio Production for BBC Radio 4.

(Image: Jim Thorpe)

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28 minutes

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Mon 30 Jul 2012 02:32 GMT