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Madison Hammond: The First Native American In The NWSL

We talk inspirations, aspirations & lasting legacies with the girl who has already written her name into the history books.

16 August 2022
There are many ways to get your name written into the history books. For Madison Hammond, it’s for being the first Native American athlete to play in the National Women’s Soccer League. But she’s not satisfied with that as her sole legacy, and has her eyes set on bigger and better things with new club, Angel City.

 

Legacies are often created by breaking down barriers, going beyond what has previously been achieved to set yourself and your achievements apart from the rest. As the first Native American athlete to play in the NWSL, Madison Hammond is already on a course to leave a lasting legacy, but like all who go on to greatness, she’s not willing to settle. Catching up with her in her new hometown of Los Angeles following her switch to Angel City back in March, we spoke with the 24-year old about who has influenced her and her career, why she’s not yet willing to settle with her achievements, and what’s to come.



Being the first Native American player in the NWSL, does it feel like something that you want people to bring up, saying you’re the first? It’s got to be something to be proud of, but is it something you always want to talk about?

I think that in the beginning it felt like a lot of pressure, and it stressed me out, but now I think it’s just a source of pride, and it kind of inspires me. But I will say it also sometimes, if things aren’t going well on the pitch, or if I’m not getting the playing time I want, or something like that, I kind of conflate the two, where I have so much responsibility to these people, my people, and my community, so if the stuff on the pitch isn’t going right, then I am like, oh well then this will be affected because of that. 

I’ve had to learn how to separate the two; it doesn’t matter what I do on the field, the fact that I am the first in this space is something that 1) no-one can ever take away from me, and 2) is something that will always be. There’s no way to spin that as a negative.

So, learning to own that, and then just take care of what I have to take care of as an athlete, that’s all the same thing.

It almost unfairly feels like you have to take so much responsibility before actually playing, because it’s almost instantly your job to represent issues, and push things forward. Do you relish that though?

I think it’s one of the most frustrating parts about being a female athlete, just because I always talk about, all the time, how I want one day for women’s sports to be seen as something where we can just be seen as badasses on the field…

It’s not so much about being a multi-hyphenate, but that’s something that just makes them good people, that makes us good people, because we care about causes, and we want to represent communities. But I want there to be one day where the next generation can just worry about playing football, or worry about whatever sport they’re playing at, and just being the best at that, and that is enough. 

I feel like, in order for female athletes to be seen as really great, they have to be really good in all other categories, whereas I feel like a male athlete can just show up, not have anything to say about anything outside of football, or their sport, and they’re just icons. Which is crazy! 

It’s frustrating but it’s also like an opportunity because I feel like we’re at this point, in culture and society, where people want athletes who have a platform to have something to say. Because politics is so exhausting, the state of the world post-Covid is really exhausting, and so when you have people that you look up to in sports, entertainment, music, who have impactful things to say, there’s a lot more influence I think that carries, especially moving forward.



So it’s not necessarily that you have to be fighting for a cause, but just showing, expressing yourself through other things…

Showing that you’re human. And I was watching this Derek Jeter, a really famous baseball player, and there was a line from his new documentary that’s out, where he said “if I was an athlete in my golden age now, my career would’ve been three years long.” And that’s because he was a really private athlete, he didn’t really have that much to say to media, and now everyone wants athletes to be front facing, like, what do you have to say about certain issues and where do you stand on certain things, and so I think that it’s important to fans and it’s just important to people to care.

Definitely. It just, makes you so relatable, and like you said – human. Who are those people that you look at that have been that for you, that have paved the way?

I think about when I was younger, and all of my role models were male soccer players. But I honestly think about my uncle, who played professional golf for a gazillion years on a PGA tour, and he has always advocated for our Native American communities, especially towards the middle and end of his first career. And I think that, that became something that was normal, to be an advocate, be a representative. it’s something that I was taught, and just shown at a really young age.

But now I look at somebody like a Megan Rapinoe, who uses her platform to say, I don’t really care what you think of me, I’m going to stand up for what’s right and for what I believe is right. And then to get to play on top of that, you get to play and meet her, and then become what I consider her to be a really good friend, and to be able to have that as somebody that’s like a real human, then you realise that you can also do those things; you can use your platform for those types of change and influence, and it’s not like this far-reaching idea of “oh, only those people can do it.” No, in fact you can do it too, you’re in the same spaces now, so, why not.



Amazing. What about the journey for you. What have been the particular moments that have made you shape your mindset?

So I’m in the third year of my career already, which I feel like went by really fast, and I feel like my career is not where I want it to be yet, and I think that I learned that it’s not specific moments, it’s the whole journey – and that sounds really cliché, but it really is. If you’re sitting there waiting for that one moment to happen, it keeps passing by, and those moments keep passing by and it gets more frustrating, and I’ve learned that the hardest part about this whole profession is just the mental side, and again, you see people talk about that, and you’re like, “oh, but I, that can never be me, I’m always like tough, I’m always competitive”, and then, next thing you know, you’re second-guessing yourself, feeling imposter syndrome in certain situations as an athlete. 

And then you realise that maybe it is a lot harder than you think. So, I think that being able to kind of, take each day as it comes and always just, like, you can’t just keep looking for that specific moment, because that one special moment is not going to happen overnight – it’s going to take time. And next thing you know, you’re three years into your career, it’s not looking how you want, and that’s OK. But that doesn’t mean that you can stop working.

You’re very much someone who believes in making their own luck, I guess…

I’ve always had to make my own luck, and I’ve always been a slow burn, I’ve never punched out the gates and been super flashy. But I’m just hoping that that pays off for me in the long run, because it’s not who finishes first, it’s who stays around the longest.

What are those aspirations like, where you would’ve wanted to be in the three years?

It all gets reduced down to playing time and I think that I have proven that I’m good enough to play at the highest level, but it’s more so now about consistency, and bringing in quality day in and day out that people can not question, like, what performance you’re going to bring on the day. And so, I think for my next step, it’s building that consistency, and building that trust within myself, and also within my team, too.



Away from the pitch, with Nike you’ve been obviously very involved in a number of initiatives that they’re doing – how does it feel to be empowered by a brand like that, and work with them?

I think we all wanna say “oh, we can do things on our own, and we can make change – if I just do the work I can make the change”, but I think having brands, institutions, influential people being able to back you, and support you, carries your message so much further. It carries your initiative so much further, because I’m only one person, nobody knows who I am in the greater global world of sport, and so being able to lean into those resources is really important and being able to ask for help. I used to be so bad at asking for help, and asking for guidance, and now I’m just like, everyone tell me everything, give me all of the answers! (LAUGHS)

Yeah. I guess that’s a sort of mature wisdom. As soon as you do realise that, the floodgates open, don’t they? It’s like you can, like with the mental side of things, you should never be afraid to just be open, I suppose.

Yeah, I think that as athletes we wanna be really proud and get it done ourselves, but it really does take a team within your own team, for yourself.

It’s so important to have the right people around you, isn’t it. Have there been moments where you just feel particularly grateful to have that support?

I think that I’ve learned my own lessons, and you know, made tweaks and hopefully put myself on like, better paths because of it, but I feel like, when you’re able to just look around you and, especially with the women’s game in the US, we’re in year 10, finally being taken more seriously, finally have a CBA, and so now there are so many more resources and things that we can access to be the best athlete we wanna be.

It’s not so much of, we’re year 1, all of the athletes in this league were just fighting for their lives, you know? Making barely $5000 a year, having two or three other jobs, and now it’s not like that – now you can establish and create a career, set it around your sport, and I think that that’s really special. But it only happened because people tapped into the resources that we have.



And in terms of your career, is becoming the biggest athlete you can a fuel for you in any way?

I don’t want that to be the goal, and I don’t want that to be the talk, because I feel like that’s a very short-lived experience. I feel like rather than becoming a big athlete it’s more like, what kind of legacy can you leave behind. The people that have influenced me the most are the people that have given me a lot of guidance on the field, have stopped me from making the mistakes that they made, and so if you can have that kind of influence on people that are coming behind, it’s just like sharing the wealth…

There’s no reason to hoard what you know, or make it all about you and be so self-focused on just your personal brand, person image, because that’s not what people are gonna remember. And so it’s definitely fun, and comes with side-perks, and you get to meet interesting people, but that’s not what I want…

Yeah that’s completely fair enough. It’s fascinating to see where your journey can go, really. You must be just excited for the future?

I think the future, for me, really, I’m going to hype myself up – I don’t think it has a lot of limits, and I think it just is going to require me to lock-in mentally and just go after it instead of waiting for it to come.



Nice, that’s amazing. What about advice that has been passed on to you, where others might’ve made mistakes. What sticks in your memory? And, what would you pass on?

I think a lot of the advice that I’ve been given, is just to take it day by day. One training session doesn’t define you, one game doesn’t define you. And every single person goes through the ups and downs, and again – you, I feel like you hear every athlete talk about that, but it’s just like, the slow grind of chipping away, and just getting better every day. And those are the people that become remembered.

And it’s not the people that, you know, are really flashy in the beginning, and then stop working. It’s not people who wait for it to happen for them, it’s the people that continuously, every single day, do something to get better. And I think that some of the older players that I’ve become friends with and really, value their advice, have just been like, “Madison, you’re being crazy. You don’t need to worry, you will be fine.” And I think just being able to internalise that, things will be fine, things will be great. And just kind of believing that…

And what about a legacy in terms of things that you’d maybe like to change or the impact, or the tweaks that you’d like to make to the game?

I want to bring soccer – football – to more of a centre stage in American culture. And I think that that requires having a lot more diversity of thinking, diversity of people, playing in the league, and so hopefully I’m the first Native American in the league, but hopefully I’m not the last, and just seeing more athletes of colour join our league would be really empowering to me.

Photography by SoccerBible.