Jim Thorpe, Amateur and Professional Athletes

Jacobus Franciscus "Jim" Thorpe (Sac and Fox (Sauk) from Oklahoma: Wa-Tho-Huk) (1888-1953) was an American athlete. Considered one of the most versatile athletes in modern sports, he won Olympic gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon, played American football collegiately and professionally, and also played professional baseball and basketball. He subsequently lost his Olympic titles when it was found he was paid for playing two seasons of minor league baseball before competing in the games (thus violating the amateur status rules). He, like Jesse Owens, found life to be difficult after the Olympics. After his professional sports career ended, Thorpe lived in abject poverty. He worked several odd jobs, struggled with alcoholism and lived out the last years of his life in failing health.

In 1983, thirty years after his death, his medals were restored. Jim Thorpe was named the greatest athlete of the first half of the twentieth century by the Associated Press (AP), in 1950. He ranked third on the AP list of athletes of the century in 1999. I thought about Jim Thorpe when I watched NBA players like Lebron James, Ming Yao and Kobe Bryant play Olympic basketball several years ago. It's been 16 years since the distinction between "amateur" and "professional" was deleted from the Olympic charter. Sad how it took the Olympics so long to come to grips with this amateur and professional thing but I am glad they finally did. Apart from the amount of compensation, do you see a difference between the pros and the amateurs? Is their really a distinction between them?

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