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Madison Hammond on Being the First Native American to Play In the NWSL

Madison Hammond on field/ JWS
Madison Hammond on field/ JWS

Madison Hammond is a defender for OL Reign of the NWSL. After playing collegiate soccer at Wake Forest University, Hammond became the first Native American soccer player to play in the NWSL. Below, Hammond talks to JWS about her rookie season, what it means to her to be the first Native American NWSL player, and how she plans to advocate for others moving forward. 

Now that the Fall Series is almost over, what are your thoughts on how it went?

Given the circumstances with COVID and all of the uncertainty, I personally benefited from the Fall Series, especially as a rookie. And, in our pod, we had Portland and Utah, which are two really good teams with full rosters, so it was definitely a good challenge to experience firsthand. It was all high energy and competition — it was so much fun. Overall, I think the Fall Series was great for individual development, but it was also great for team development. It gave us time to get to know our new head coach, figure out our style of play and discover our team chemistry. In my opinion, it was a beneficial two months.

This has been quite the year to be a rookie in the league. When you look back on the last 6 months, what stands out to you? 

My mind goes to so many different places when answering this question. For me, being on the field has made me realize how much potential I have and how much room I have to grow as a professional athlete. It wasn’t a fake rookie season, but it felt like that in a way. I had an opportunity to really put myself out there and not feel as much pressure. The time also helped me learn to be ready for anything. I feel like my entire life has been very cookie cutter, but now I’m just trying to learn to take things as they come in terms of soccer.

Off the field, what stuck out most to me, during this time, is that people care about what I have to say — not just about sports, but about what it’s like to be a female athlete in sports, a Black athlete in sports. It’s really been eye opening for me to realize that even though I’m a rookie, even though I’m really young, I still bring something of value to this industry and this sport. I think that’s really exciting.

You are the first Native American player in the league. What does that mean to you?

For me, being the first has been a very humbling experience. When you look at other people who have been the first of anything, it’s like, “Oh, that is so cool.” But, I don’t look at myself in that way. Maybe it’s because I’m only 22 years old and I’m still trying to figure out how to operate as a professional athlete. Even in this short amount of time, though, having people reach out and be inspired by my story has inspired me in reaction. It motivates me to keep working hard because people are noticing and it’s actually having an impact on people. It’s kind of mind blowing to be honest.

You’ve talked before about your experience attending a predominantly white school (Wake Forest University) and learning to speak up about your Native American background and experience. The NWSL is a predominantly white league. Has it been a similar experience in terms of entering a space where not a lot of people likely understand Native American culture? 

When I went to Wake, it was almost as if I operated in a space where my racial identity was an experience that I was undergoing myself. Even though I put myself in places to have conversations with people about racial diversity and racial inclusion on campus, no one really asked me how I felt about certain things. No one sat down and asked me about what it’s like being a Native American.

Now, on my team, it’s really different. I feel fortunate in that, with everything happening with the Black Lives Matter movement, there have been more talks about diversity and inclusion. During the Challenge Cup, we had a lot of discussions surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and some of my teammates would look to me and ask, “Well, you’re having these experiences as a Black woman. What about as a Native American woman?”  There were some moments where I was almost surprised, like, “Well, I’m not really sure how I felt. I haven’t ever been asked to think about it.” I think it’s been really positive. I want people to understand that if they’re going to care about me as a teammate, as a friend, as a representative in this league, then they should also care about my personal experiences outside of just soccer.

You’ve said that moving across the country at an early age made it difficult to maintain ties with your Native American culture. What are you doing now as an adult to keep those ties? 

I’m interested to know what images pop up in people’s heads when I tell them that. What does it look like to lean back into your Native American culture? For me, it’s just having more conversations with my family and leaning back into a lot of our own beliefs. It’s very similar to religious beliefs, almost. It’s something that’s very spiritual. I’m trying to learn our language which is difficult because it’s only spoken, it’s not written down. My grandma is the only person in my immediate family who speaks fluently.

I think I’m just trying to be the best advocate for myself and for Native American communities as I can. I’m an N7 ambassador, which is a branch of Nike that is a fund for indigenous communities and athletes. I’m hoping that through different forms of outreach, I can keep telling stories that are authentic representations of Native American communities. I want to start breaking down those really old stereotypes that have permeated American culture since forever.

How are you planning to use your platform moving forward to encourage more Native American youth to see that they have a future in professional soccer?

Right now, my biggest focus is just laying the foundational groundwork and making sure that I’m advocating as best as I can. I hate to admit it, but social media is so influential in helping me to speak up on things that matter. The things that matter to me right now are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, supporting voter registration and supporting voting. For me, it’s both about using my platform to advocate for those things, but also making sure that I’m performing on the field and being a good teammate.

At the end of the day, this is my profession and I want to be a good soccer player. I want kids to see that in order to be the best, you have to be playing at the highest level. Overall, I want to lay the groundwork, be my authentic self, and advocate for the things I believe in.

What was your reaction when you saw that tweet from Billie Jean King? That must’ve been unreal.

It was so unreal. I thought it was a fan account. I refreshed my Twitter app three or four times, I was so surprised. Even once the dust settled, I thought it was so cool that somebody with such a huge platform was recognizing me and validating Native American people. With COVID, Native American communities have been hit so terribly and it hasn’t reached mainstream media. So for there to be even just a little bit of happy news, I think it was really important.

Caitlin Clark stuns in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports. It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before. Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, answers need to be had from head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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