Was Jim Thorpe a polymath?

As many of you are no doubt aware, Jim Thorpe was a man with some small skill in athletic games. I know the definition of a polymath is a person who excels in many fields. However, aren’t those generally intellectual accomplishments? I’m not saying Mr. Thorpe was an idiot, but would he, or another person who had great skill in several diffirent physical areas, fall under this definition?

I’d vote yes, as sports, especially at that level, require considerable work by the ol’ brain.

Playing more than one sport very well isn’t difficult for most people because their muscles can’t take it. It’s because skills specific to one sport or another have to be developed and practiced, and most people just don’t have that kind of talent and commitment to make it work.

Both talent and commitment here would be greatly determined by the mind.

So if someone was very good at many sports, it would naturally follow that (s)he would be smarter than the average Olympian? (again, not saying they’re dumb)

Not necessarily. Just that the talents Jim Thorpe deployed into numerous sports were deployed by other athletes into only one or two.

The thing that distinguishes a polymath, whether in sports or in intellectual pursuits, is the ability to do many things. That is rare indeed, in a world that pushes people to specialize whether they are an athlete or a scholar.

Jim Thorpe was an outstanding athlete, but competed against a relatively small talent pool. Blacks were prohibited from competing against whites on a level playing field. I think it’s also safe to assume this nation’s destitute (“the truly poor”) could ill-afford the time-intensive training regimen and nutritious meals required to develop their God-given talent.

I only mentioned him because he was the first multi-athlete I could think of off the top of my head. Can you give me another example, just for education’s sake?

Also, are you suggesting that given the proper training and nutrition this type of ability might be more common?

It doesn’t get any more truly poor than having to live on the government’s nickel at the Carlisle Indian School. Of course, he didn’t have a choice, but the point is that I would hardly hold Jim Thorpe up as a rich man with all the time in the world for training.

Was Jim Thorpe fluent in English as well as a Native American language? Couldn’t that be considered the type of intellectual achievement the OP was asking about.

That’s a polyglot. As far as I know, Jim Thorpe spoke English and most likely nothing else.

I didn’t hold Jim Thorpe up as a “rich man,” nor did I suggest he had all the time in the world for training.

But Thorpe’s meteoric rise from (what I surmise was) poverty to athletic triumph doesn’t mean that every naturally gifted person should have been able to do similarly. Blacks were barred from world-class competition. Untold numbers of white adolescents/young men were consigned to dawn-to-dusk toil in mines, factory lines, war plants, crop fields, etc. Given the entry constraints placed on so many people at that time–back when pockets of extreme poverty were deep and wide, and child labor still existed–I’m not sure the Jim Thorpe story would have been so breathtaking had the playing field been more level back then.

That said, he was an amazing, amazing athlete.

Is there any evidence that Thorpe had an encyclopedic knowledge of anything?

Wasn’t he gifted athlete, but about average otherwise?

I remember bristling when people referred to David Burne of Talking Heads as a ‘Renaissance Man’, because he was a singer, songwriter, producer, director, etc. :rolleyes:

As I recall, a Renaissance Man was one at home in the arts as well as the sciences – e.g., someone who was accomplished in (or made contributions to) mathematics, ballet, plumbing, philosophy, boxing, entomology, etc. Real-life examples off the top of my head might include Albert Schweitzer, Paul Robeson, Hedy Lamarr and Benjamin Franklin. And maybe George Patton and Muhammad Ali.

Although I am not an expert on his life (nor on the strict definitions of ‘Renaissance Man’ and ‘polymath’), I would call Jim Thorpe an extraordinarily accomplished athlete (in the words of the king of Sweden, who awarded him his Olympic medals, “the greatest athlete in the world”), and one who really got shafted for playing semi-pro baseball and being consequently stripped of his medals. If he had expertise in endeavors unrelated to athletics, that would have rated the designation polymath.

I believe the traditional Olympic-type games of a number of different cultures required athletes to excel at a number of varied skills. This probaby goes back about as far as organized human sporting competition.

While it is true that Thorpe excelled at multi-event track and feild competitions (decathlon and pentathlon), I don’t know believe he was a champion in any individual event. He did play professional baseball, but at the time, that was one of the few pro sports in America that paid anything close to a living wage. Thorpe was not the greatest of baseball players and people whom others might have thought were less gifted athletically were better than Thorpe at the game.
Thorpe was an excellent football player in an era when players played the full game on both sides of the ball.

When the NFL started up, Thorpe was a big attraction and he was the titular commissioner of the league for its first year. However, it didn’t pay him much.