Native Americans Sport

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When you think about Native American culture, there are many different topics that come to mind. From the rituals, to all the ceremonial leaders such as the chief, medicine woman, pipe carrier, and firekeeper, to all the artifacts a tribe has, many different ideas are thought about and discussed when referring to Natives. One topic not spoken about as much, but is known about is the topic of Native Americans in sports. Many great athletes have come from the Native American Tribes spanning America, and those athletes manage to achieve greatness, such as winning gold medals in the Olympics. Some notable athletes to have a Native American background are Jim Thorpe, who can be argued as the greatest athlete of the 20th Century, and Kenny Dobbs, who was the basketball dunking champion. There were many other notable athletes, athletes who were professional in their specific sport, and others who even hold world records. These athletes defied odds and proved that, no matter what hardships occur in your life, no matter where you are from, you can achieve greatness and achieve your dreams.

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One athlete that grace this planet that came from a Native background is Jim Thorpe. Jim Thorpe was a very versatile athlete who excelled in many different sports. Jim Thorpe, from Sauk and Fox, could be argued one of the greatest athletes of all time. Thorpe excelled in track and field, wrestling, baseball, and football. His determination and hard work is what made it possible for him to reach the 1912 Olympics, along with having a professional career in baseball and football (Schilling 87). Jim Thorpe was born in the spring of 1887 to Hiram Thorpe, a farmer who was Sauk and Fox, and Mary James, who was Potawatomi with blood ties to the Kickapoo (Wilde). Growing up, Thorpe did not have the greatest time. When he was 6, Thorpe and his two brothers had to attend a boarding school This school was intended to convert the Natives to European-American culture. If something didn’t go the way they wanted, the boys were punished (Schilling 87). Even though these times were difficult, Thorpe persevered until he got into the Haskell Indian Junior College in the fall of 1898 (Bruchac 11). At this college is where Thorpe got his passion for all the sports he played. Once 16, when Thorpe had been home after running from Haskells, a recruiter met up with him and Thorpe later went to Carlisle, a great school for sports (Bruchac). When there, he worked his way onto the track team, coming first and second in the track and field competition, and even clearing the high jump, when no members of the team could (Schilling). Later on, Thorpe tried out for football, and destroyed the tacklers, weaving and dodging each and every one of them. Thorpe thrived in Track and field, along as in football. In Track and Field, he was unstoppable, winning eleven gold, four silver, and three bronze medals across different events. Even in football, he became one of the squad’s star running backs, even though he was much smaller than the other players Schilling).

At 25 years old, Thorpe qualified for the 1912 Olympics, participating in many different events. At the Olympics, he placed podium many times, but his most noticeable achievements were getting gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon. His two medals were presented by King Gustav V of Sweden, who considered Thorpe the greatest athlete in the world (Schilling). When the news came out that Thorpe was paid to play baseball, his medals were stripped of him, and his records and statistics were wiped. Thorpe was clearly devastated, but did not let this get to him, as he continued to play sports, becoming a professional baseball player, along with a professional football player (Schilling). Thorpe went on to also achieve many other great things, even becoming president of the American Professional Football Association (which later became known as the NFL). Sadly, Thorpe passed away in 1953 of a heart attack. In 1982, 29 years after he passed away, the International Olympic Committee restored Thorpe’s gold medals, along with his records. Thorpe finally received the credit he deserved (Schilling). Jim Thorpe didn’t always have the easiest life, dealing with many hardships, but he proved to many people that anything is possible with hard work and dedication, inspiring the younger generations for years to come.

Another famous athlete descending from native roots is Cheri Becerra-Madsen. Becerra was a wheel chair-racing Olympian and world record holder, who is from the Omaha tribe. Through her career as an Olympian, being a two-time Olympian, Paralympian, and she even holds the world record in three-wheeled wheelchair racing. Becerra was born in Nebraska City, Nebraska. When she was just four years old, a virus left her paralyzed from the waist down (Schilling). Even though living confined to a wheelchair must be a difficult task for Becerra, she still managed to enjoy her life, even going riding with her brothers and sisters, riding on the back of their bikes (Schilling).

When Becerra was eighteen, she attended her first three-wheeled wheelchair race. At this event Becerra met Jim Martinson, a Vietnam war veteran who was an amputee. Here at the race, Jim allowed Becerra to use his chair to participate in the race. Even though she didn’t fit well in the chair, she managed to do well, defeating many, almost everyone else racing. She considered taking up racing after that day, and with the help of her hometown, she was able to buy a racing chair, and start what would be known as a truly great career (Schilling). Soon after getting her new racing chair, she was invited to nationals, where she learned just how tough the competition in the wheelchair racing scene would be. The other wheel chair racers she was up against were more trained, unlike Becerra, who only had two weeks to train. Even going up against some of the best racers, if not the best racers in the country, she managed to come up in first place for her age group, and even coming in third overall, barely losing to the top two competitors (Schilling). It was at this competition where Becerra met and became friends with another wheelchair racer known as LeAnn Shannon. It was Shannon who got Becerra to move down to Florida to train, where the Becerra eventually worked hard enough to qualify for the Paralympics, and later the 1996 Olympics. It was at a competition held just before the Olympics where she broke the world record in the 400-meter race (Schilling). Even though Becerra did so well, even bagging two silver medals, and three bronze medals, she dealt with a lot of racism. Not only was she a native, she was also a woman, and many people tried to tear her down, not only chanting at her, but calling her names. She did not let any of this get to her, proving to the world just was she was capable of. 4 years later at the Paralympics in Sydney Australia, she won 2 gold medals, and broke two world record (Schilling). Becerra is now retired, living with her family. He has proved to young people around the world, especially natives and young women that, no matter what hardships get in your way, you are able to achieve anything, and that if you have a dream you should focus on it, and work your best to achieve that dream.

Even though there are these two athletes who have proved to the world anything is possible, and that with enough hard work, determination, and dedication, you can achieve your goals. Along with Thorpe, and Becerra, you had the likes of Kenny Dobbs, from the Choctaw tribe, who, even though he did not have the easiest of lives growing up, was well known for being a basketball dunking champion (Schilling). There are even the likes of Indy Race car drivers such as Cory Witherill, who is from the Navajo tribe. Like Thorpe and Becerra, there are many other natives who won medals in the Olympics, such as Alwyn Morris from the Mohawk tribe. Morris was able to win a gold medal in kayaking at the 1984 summer Olympics. – (Schilling).

Also, like Thorpe, there have been Natives who have gone on to be professional athletes, such as Sebastian “Beau” Kemp from the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. Other natives who became professionals were Jordin Tootoo from the Inuit tribe. Tootoo was a National Hockey League star. Stephanie Murata, from the Osage tribe, who was a championship wrestler. There was also Delby Powless, from the Mohawk tribe, who was a professional lacrosse player. All these athletes were able to prove that no matter where you are from, who you are, whether it male or female, whether you grow up through tough times, or even have some sort of disability, anything is possible, with the people around you, your family, your friends always supporting you and wanting you to succeed (Schilling).

These famous Native American Athletes set an example for all young people, all young Natives, and are true role models for everyone trying to achieve their goals.

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Native Americans sport. (2020, Jan 10). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from

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