American Portraits

Jim Thorpe Chooses the Bright Path of Responsibility

In this lesson, students will learn from the example of athlete Jim Thorpe’s life of responsibility. They will also learn how to make responsible decisions themselves.

Founding Principles

Equality image


Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


A descendant of the famous warrior chief Black Hawk, Jim Thorpe (Native American name, Wa-tho-huck, or Bright Path) was born in rural Oklahoma on May 28, 1888. Thorpe was of Irish, Sac-Fox, Potawatomi, and Kickapoo descent. Life was difficult for Thorpe’s family and, from an early age, he was expected to be accountable for helping the family to survive by working and hunting for food. This accountability instilled in Thorpe a deep sense of responsibility to his family and community. He knew he had an obligation to use his strengths and talents to help others….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you make responsible decisions to improve your life?

Virtue Defined

Responsibility is accountability to myself and others.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn from the example of athlete Jim Thorpe’s life of responsibility. They will also learn how to make responsible decisions themselves.


  • Students will analyze the responsibility of Jim Thorpe.
  • Students will understand the importance of acting responsibly.
  • Students will apply their knowledge toward being responsible in their own lives.


The greatest achievement and most honored title in sports competition goes to the winner of the Olympic Decathlon. The Decathlon (a Greek word meaning “Ten Feats”) is the ultimate all-around test of athletic skill and discipline. It is a 10-event contest lasting two days that tests a wide range of athletic abilities. The first day consists of (in order): 100m race, Long Jump, Shot Put, High Jump and 400m. The second day’s events are 110m Hurdles, Discus Throw, Pole Vault, Javelin Throw, and 1500m. The competitor with the most points in the ten events is the winner and is crowned with the title of “The World’s Greatest Athlete.”

The legendary Jim Thorpe won a gold medal in the first modern Olympic Decathlon, which was introduced in the 1912 Olympics Games at Stockholm, Sweden. In those same Olympic Games, Thorpe also won a gold medal for the Pentathlon competition, which included five events comprised of the long jump, discus, javelin, sprint, and wrestling. The Pentathlon, which is no longer included in the Olympic Games, was the forerunner of the modern Decathlon and dates back to the ancient Olympic Games. When Thorpe won gold medals in both the Decathlon and Pentathlon, King Gustaf V of Sweden personally awarded the medals to Thorpe while grabbing his hand and proclaiming, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world!” Throughout his life, Thorpe understood that he had a responsibility to use his abilities to help those around him.


  • Decathlon
  • Legendary
  • Pentathlon
  • Comprised
  • Endurance
  • Content
  • Amateur
  • Stereotypical
  • Authentic

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Jim Thorpe? Why is he significant?
  • What was Thorpe’s purpose as an athlete and in Hollywood?
  • What responsible actions did Thorpe take throughout his life?
  • How did Jim Thorpe help to advance freedom throughout his life?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Flatter, Ron. “Thorpe Preceded Deion, Bo.” ESPN., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.
  • “Hall of Famers.” » JIM THORPE. Pro Football Hall of Fame, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.
  • “IAAF: Athletics Discipline – Decathlon – Disciplines –” International Association of Athletics Federations, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.
  • “Jim Thorpe Biography.” A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.
  • “Jim Thorpe The World’s Greatest Athlete.” Jim Thorpe The World’s Greatest Athlete. Estate of Jim Thorpe, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.
  • “WebCite Query Result.” WebCite Query Result., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.
  • “World-Class Athlete Jim Thorpe Was Born.” World-Class Athlete Jim Thorpe Was Born. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015.

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