Indianness and Expectation: Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills as Iconic Native American Athletes
AuthorMcGregor, Andrew D.
AdvisorDavies, Richard O.
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This thesis connects and explains the experiences of iconic athletes Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills by analyzing the cultural and political structures that frame the Native American experience. At the turn of the twentieth century progressive ideas of assimilation were fused with Muscular Christian views of sport in the Native American boarding school system. As a result, sports emerged as a middle ground where Native American athletes were able to coexist, cooperate, and assert their identity in broader American society. As the only two Native American Olympic Gold Medalists, Thorpe and Mills actively challenged the representations of Native Americans. Their lives however, were vastly different. Changes in the federal Indian policies distinguish the experiences of Thorpe and Mills. While boarding school athletic teams remained central to Native American athletics, the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act altered the sporting middle ground. Boarding schools moved away from high profile athletic teams, reducing the number of prominent Native American athletes in mainstream society. Military service however, joined the boarding school and continued the sporting middle ground. The lives of Thorpe and Mills illustrate that, amidst these changes, sports remained an important place for Native American activism.