Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

At the age of six, Madison Hammond already began to show talents in the sport she would one day play professionally. Now in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has joined the roster of the OL Reign, a professional women’s soccer team in Seattle. 

Hammond, Navajo, San Felipe, and African American, says she grew up in a single-parent home and her supportive mother, Carol Lincoln, fostered Hammond’s skill growth over the years.

After high school, Hammond attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina maintaining excellence in sports and studies. Hammond’s dedication in life got her noticed for her athleticism as well as maintaining great marks, landing her on the honor roll.

Having practiced her soccer skills with her family in San Felipe, athleticism runs in Hammond’s family to say the least. Her uncle is professional golfer Notah Begay III.

Begay says he is incredibly proud of his niece, who is bringing great awareness to the representation of Native athletes. “I think it’s critical to tell the story as soccer becomes more prevalent on our Indian reservations,” Begay said. “We currently have a handful of collegiate players but none at the highest level with the exception of Madison.”

International soccer player and a sports television host Temryss Lane, Lummi, is also applauding Hammond for becoming the first Native woman signed to the National Women’s Soccer League.

“My dream was to play for the Women's National Team and I was working towards that dream. I almost got there but I had a handful of injuries,” said Lane. “The lack of visibility of Native people playing in the game is really apparent so having someone step up and claim our rightful place in the NWSL representing Native people of Turtle Island and for women at that— is a dream come true. She is not only realizing her dream but she's realizing my dreams and other athletes' dreams. I'm so excited to see a Native woman accomplish something for herself, for her family, her community, and all Indigenous people of the Americas. It is about time.”

In a conversation with Indian Country Today, Hammond described her climb to getting signed to the OL Reign and what it is like pursuing professional sports in the midst of a pandemic.

Vincent Schilling: First of all, congratulations. You literally made history.

Madison Hammond: It's been very, very surreal. I don't think it's still quite set in, cause it kind of just feels, I mean with COVID and everything going on and just the setup of the NWSL challenge cup this year, things still don't quite feel normal because it's not a normal or traditional season, but it's real, so yeah.

Vincent Schilling: You are the first Native American woman in professional soccer. While that is an honor, I imagine it might be a little intimidating despite my guess. How did it happen?

Madison Hammond: I guess I'll just start with post-college, you know, after I graduated in December a semester early and I graduated with the intention of wanting to try and make a professional roster, I didn't know if that was [going to be] here in the United States or if that was abroad. I had actually gone abroad to look at a couple of options in Spain and things just hadn't really worked out. The draft came, I didn't know if I was gonna get drafted. I didn't end up getting drafted, but I was called into OL Reigns preseason camp to try and make a roster. I was like, ‘all right. I mean, I'll do it. It's Seattle.’ I love the Pacific Northwest. Every time I've gone to Seattle, I love it there. And so I went and we were just then getting into the groove of things.

Vincent Schilling: And then a pandemic hit.

Madison Hammond: So sports were put on hold as we all know. And all of the non-contracted players were sent home. So I went back to Arlington, Virginia, where I live with my mom and I just spent, you know, the three, two and a half-ish months just training by myself and with maybe two or three other people. And literally, there were days where it was just me kicking against a parking garage, just like trying to get touches, trying to stay fit because they said, ‘if things open up at any point, we're going to try and have some of you come back.’ Fast forward and the end of May comes. And you know, at that point I'm like, “Are sports even going to open up back again? What's going to happen with the virus?

And then I get a call and they're like, ‘We want to invite you back into camp. The NWSL is going to be having a month-long tournament. We want you to try out for the team.

And I was like, ‘Alright, let's do it!’ So I fly back out to Tacoma and then another 180, they're like, we're going to actually do preseason in Montana because Montana hasn't had a ton of cases. And we would be able to have more flexibility for training. So I went to Montana for a month. Had never been there. It was beautiful. We were in Missoula for a month, and towards the end, they offered me a contract on June 20th. And I was like, what?

Vincent Schilling: What happened? That's a golden moment.

Madison Hammond: The head coach and assistant coach called me to the hotel lobby, actually hallway and they said, ‘We want to offer you a contract for the duration of the tournament, which is one month long. And then at the end of the tournament, we'll see about a possibility of extension to a long term contract. At the end of the week, our owner bill Predmore called me, he had just a ton of nice things to say — and I can't say enough nice things about Bill, he's just very supportive of all of us on the field, but also off the field — And he said, ‘We want to just skip the short term and we're just going to offer you a long term contract. I was just absolutely blown away. I was like, ‘you've got to be kidding me.’

Vincent Schilling: You got two years with an option at three, right?

Madison Hammond: Yes. It was just really exciting. I got off the phone. I called my mom. I called my sister and I was like, ‘Are you talking about me?’ It was one of those kinds of moments.

Madison Hammond - Ol Reign courtesy

Vincent Schilling: You have done a lot of great work on and off the field preparing for this. You are also a student on the honor roll. So though this pandemic might have put a bit of a pause on professional sports pandemic, what's, what's the environment going to be like for you going into this?

Madison Hammond: We've been in this tournament. So the Challenge Cup is basically replacing our 2020 season. So, this month-long tournament involves eight teams, there are nine teams in the league. Orlando is not at the tournament. I think that a lot of people have said, ‘Is it weird not having fans? What's it like to play in the middle of a pandemic?’ And to be honest, the game has pretty much stayed the same. There's still a competitive nature. I don't think that that's been taken away from it, even though there aren't any fans in the stands. That's why you play, you play for the fans, you play for yourself.

It's just been really cool to see this league have to fight against so many other obstacles and it is now getting nationwide recognition and you know, the first opening game was on CBS and had half a million viewers.

Vincent Schilling: What was your first experience being part of the Ol Reign team?

Madison Hammond: I have a mini personal blog and I wrote a little thing about my first pro day. It was just so unreal just feeling the energy from the team. It's a lot different than college. In college things are much more team-oriented. But in a professional environment, it's almost intimidating just to see how everyone prepares individually. And everybody takes responsibility for their own actions.

It was just really cool. It was unreal, but it is fun. The first game was a tie, but it also just gave me a ton of energy and fire, because I was like, I want to be out there now.

A video interview with Madison Hammond

Vincent Schilling: How does it feel to be the first Native American woman in professional women’s soccer in the history of the sport?

Madison Hammond: I don't think I've wrapped my head around the historic part of it. I take this like, ‘Oh, everybody can do this.’ And then I stepped back and I realized, ‘No Madison not everybody's doing this, not everyone is capable of doing this’ So I have been able to step back and appreciate my accomplishments. I grew up in a single-parent family and I grew up with a really supportive family network. You know, my uncle, Notah Begaye III, I watched him be a professional athlete and I have been surrounded by sports my entire life.

I've never, once in my life had a family member tell me I couldn't do something. There’s just always been a ton of love and encouragement that has pushed me forward. And even from my sister, she works in sports and she's said, ‘You know, you gotta keep going.’ And she played sports and she was a great athlete, like probably a better athlete than me, but whatever. And you know, I just had all of these different outlets of just support.

I realize and recognize that privilege that I've had and not all Native women, have come from such supportive environments and you know, life throws people a lot of different things and I've been lucky enough to not have to deal with a lot of life's harsher realities. But I want to be, at least in this next year, in my rookie season, work on creating my own responsible platform so that once I have something that's big enough to say, or I have created enough resources and have enough resources and have enough support, I can actually give back to communities.

Vincent Schilling: What would you say to a young athlete that wanted to follow your path of success?

Madison Hammond: I would tell her that she always has an opportunity to get out—even on the worst day—but she just would have to be looking in the right places. And I don't know what that would look like on an individual basis, but I think I always try to lead with hope. And I think that there's always some option that leads you in the right direction, even when things might not seem like it.

Vincent Schilling: So how does it all feel at this point?

Madison Hammond: It's cool to be like, 'Oh, I'm here.' Like, I'm happy. Like I'm just having a great time, but it's like, okay, I'm competitive. No, I want to play. I'm trying to keep working hard and learning from everybody and developing relationships and friendships with the players and also the coaches and just see where it goes.

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Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is on Twitter @VinceSchilling and Instagram @VinceSchilling.