Ask Madison Hammond about the Fall Series, and there is an undeniable pride in her voice, an acknowledgement of her place in league history. But, there is also a sense of responsibility.
Hammond is a first – but wants to make sure she is not the last.
“Representation is just so important across the board,” said Hammond. “Especially in this league – I think that we’ve done a lot of good work in the past year, but there’s always room to keep growing. How many different ways can we get more Native American players to be inspired? I hope that I can just be a face for them to recognize, and they can see themselves in me.”
Hammond, who is Navajo, San Felipe Pueblo, and African American, moved away from her native Albuquerque, New Mexico at age nine and spent most of her formative years in Virginia. In a majority white community, connecting to a heritage that requires physical presence was difficult for Hammond – who took up learning the San Felipe language, Keres, with her mother.
“When Billie Jean King said ‘you have to see it, to be it’ – you can’t put it better than that,” said Hammond. “Growing up, I didn’t. For me, it wasn’t a barrier that I didn’t see Native American representation – but I think that it would have been helpful to see that. When you see people like you, with your similar story, doing what you want to do – you know it’s an attainable goal.”
A member of Hammond’s family did, however, make waves as a professional athlete. Her uncle, Notah Begay III, was a four time PGA Tour Champion and NCAA Champion at Stanford, alongside Tiger Woods. However, it’s Begay’s time in Europe and the developmental tour that Hammond admires most.
Proud moment to see my niece @gohaamm step on the field for the first time for @NWSL @OLReign! Indian country is watching in hopes that there will be more young Native American women to follow in her footsteps! #FirstInHistory #OpeningUpTheGame #ProudUncle https://t.co/5SColswg7M
— Notah Begay III (@NotahBegay3) September 27, 2020
“His story shows how patience and hard work pays off,” said Hammond. “There are days when I come home from training frustrated and I’m reminded of his journey. He had to go to Europe before playing in the PGA – yet he was still so successful. He really is such a grounding presence who gets what it’s like. Having that first-hand experience of what it’s like to really be a true competitor is going to help me so much in my career.”
After going undrafted and trialing in Spain, Hammond joined OL Reign in Montana for preseason ahead of the club’s Challenge Cup run. While she ended the Fall Series with two consecutive starts, the Wake Forest alum made her debut on September 26th in Utah. While Hammond admits she probably had “one thousand thoughts” entering the field, she did recognize the weight of the moment.
“I did have a moment of ‘wow, I am the first of me to step on this field.’ It was brief, and I smiled to myself,” said Hammond. “I thought of my Mom and sister, who were at the game. It was special for me because, with COVID, it was never guaranteed for them to see my debut. I should have only thought about the game, but I thought about them. It was very special.”
Around her debut, Hammond has caught the attention of actress Gabrielle Union and tennis legend Billie Jean King – with both sending congratulatory messages to the young defender on social media.
your #WCW !? I would be lying if I didn’t say that I fangirled this too hard 😍
I’m humbled to have reached this point, but I cannot thank you enough for lifting up not only me with this, but Native Americans everywhere.
— madison hammond (@gohaamm) September 30, 2020
“As an athlete, you’re taught not to search for external validation – but to get validation from those two, it definitely feels good,” said Hammond. “It’s nice to see people with platforms that touch so many different types of people recognizing you. It’s so important for those who get ahead to try and keep pulling along those that are behind them. It creates a chain reaction of women supporting women, and it’s special.”
However, it wasn’t the attention of the stars that meant the most to Hammond – it was fellow Native Americans and residents of Albuquerque reacting to her appearance on Men in Blazers. While she hadn’t seen it as a child, the next generation of Native American girls had – even for a brief moment – seen someone like them do what they want to do.
“That was the most moving wave of attention,” said Hammond. “People leaving comments saying “we’re Native American too” – from all these different tribes. For me, that’s really meaningful because they might have young girls who play soccer, and for them to be able to say ‘look, there’s somebody like you doing what you want to do it’ – that was just the best part of it.”