Native Americans spent much of their early history playing games. However, Native games are more than just games. They build body and spirit through exercise, which all age groups play —children, youth, and adults. Many games have roots in ancestral tests of strength and sport that reinforced group cooperation and sharpened skills in often hostile environments. For warriors, the games helped maintain their readiness and combat skills between times of war.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, let’s remember these great Native Americans to become star athletes. These three outstanding Native Americans open the door for future Native Americans to share their athletic skills in professional sports.
Here are these great sports stars.
FRANK C. PIERCE
Frank C. Pierce was the first Native American to compete for the United States in the Olympic Games. He competed as a track and field athlete and distance runner. Pierce was 1 of three Seneca long-distance runner brothers from the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York. In 1904, Mr. Pierce represented the Pastime AC and entered the marathon. His small size (5-6 and 125 lbs.) made him fit perfectly as a distance runner. He was one of three Seneca Indian distance-running brothers, with his older brother, Jerry Pierce, having recorded a time of 15:57.4 for 3 miles in 1901. He also finished second in the AAU 5-mile championship, followed by a third-place finish in the same event in 1902.
During the Stockholm Summer Olympics, 1912, King Gustav V of Sweden presents an Olympic medal and wreath to 25-year-old Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox American Indian). It proclaims him “the greatest athlete in the world.”
With this honor, reporters continued to comment that “Jim Thorpe was the greatest athlete who ever lived… What he had was natural ability. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. All he had to see is someone doin’ something, and he tried it, and he’d do it better.”
When Mr. Thorpe’s athletic career ended in 1929, The Great had just begun. As a result, he had trouble finding and maintaining work and supporting his family. So naturally, he found jobs as a Hollywood actor and may have appeared in as many as 59 movies.
Louis Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot Indian tribe of Maine, played 94 major league games. However, he is remembered today as the first Native American and first recognized minority to perform in the National League. He was signed by the Cleveland Spiders in 1897, fifty years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Sockalexis was similar to Robinson, a multi-talented athlete who excelled in football and track and baseball, appeared destined for stardom, but alcoholism derailed his promising career. He is, however, at least indirectly responsible for the nickname “Indians” as applied to the present American League team in Cleveland.
Honor Native Americans and thank them for all their contributions to all of us.