In a poll of sports fans conducted by ABC Sports in 2000, James Francis “Jim” Thorpe was voted the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century. He beat out of 15 other super-athletes including Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Wayne Gretzky, Jack Nicklaus, and Michael Jordan. Jim Thorpe could do it all. Arguably, the most versatile athlete in modern sports, he won Olympic gold medals for the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football (collegiate and professional), and also played professional baseball and basketball.
He played professional sports until age 41. Following his extraordinary playing career, Thorpe struggled to earn a living after that, working several odd jobs. As a result, he suffered from alcoholism, and lived his last years in failing health and poverty.
On March 28, 1953, at the age of 64, he died broke.
Jim Thorpe’s legacy still shines bright today. What is not so bright is the feud that still exists between his two surviving children. A lawsuit ensued over where the body of Jim Thorpe should be buried.
Along with a majority of the descendants, William Thorpe believes that his father should be buried in Oklahoma, where he was born and raised. His brother, Richard believes that he should remain in eastern Pennsylvania, where his mausoleum has been a roadside attraction for more than a half-century. The Pennsylvania town that he is buried in takes great pride in its affiliation with Jim Thorpe, so much that following his death in 1953 the municipality was renamed Jim Thorpe, PA.
A critical ruling occurred this past week in the three year old lawsuit. Federal Judge Richard A. Caputo ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. This ruling could pave the way for his remains to be removed from Pennsylvania and reinterred on American Indian land in Oklahoma.
It is unclear whether an appeal will occur.