Madison Hammond Is Making Soccer History

The first and only indigenous player in the National Women’s Soccer League is making sure she’s not the last.

Madison Hammond

Just Women's Sports

Back in 2020, when Madison Hammond joined Seattle's OL Reign, she became the first-ever Indigenous player in the National Women’s Soccer League. Being the first earned the defender a headline-making debut season, though most of the attention was focused on how 2020’s games were canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Undeterred, Hammond would eventually land at the celebrity-owned Los Angeles’s Angel City FC after being traded in 2022, where she’s using the team’s M.O. of inclusion and community outreach to embrace her identity — and face her legacy — in a new way.

When reminded that she was the first (and continues to be the only Indigenous player in the league), she notes that it’s something journalists and fans alike love to ask about. She responds with the wisdom of someone much older than 25, saying that being a trailblazer comes with a unique set of opportunities, not only for her community, but also for herself.

“I have been asked this a bajillion times,” she says, laughing at having to address her heritage time and again. But being the first Indigenous player in professional women’s soccer isn’t a joking matter. In a sport that’s played around the globe  — soccer is known as the world’s game, after all — being the USA’s first Indigenous player comes with a bit of pressure. She adds that talking about that distinction, however many times she has to, is just one way she’s ensuring that other firsts follow her lead.

Hammond credits Angel City for allowing her to continue to share her story with the communities that make up the club’s supporters. Fans of all ethnicities, genders, and ages fill the stands each and every time the team takes to the field at Banc of California stadium, a representation of the diverse people that make up Los Angeles. Hammond is happy for the chance to show an already welcoming fan base one more point of view.

“It feels great, and it feels very empowering, because I get to gain a lot of agency and access into spaces that I wouldn't be able to unless I was the first Native American to play in the league,” she adds, though she is quick to point out that women’s soccer, even in L.A., is far from perfect in terms of diversity. “Even within the NWSL, there's one Black head coach and there are no Black female head coaches in the league. I think that there needs to be more of an emphasis on bringing that diversity to the sport, whether it's coaching players on your team or people in your front office positions.”

I think that as I've grown both as an athlete and as an advocate, being the first Native American in the NWSL has allowed me to experience a lot of things both on and off the pitch.

Hammond is setting herself up to be an inspiration to athletes everywhere, Indigenous or not, though she mentions that idols don’t necessarily share her background (Hammond is San Felipe Pueblo, Navajo, and Black). Like many other soccer players, she cites one of the greatest of all time.

“I've been obsessed with Lionel Messi since the beginning of time,” she explains. “I actually had a lot of role models to look up to, but they were all men and they all played internationally. I was looking up to [female] players like Lauren Holiday and Shannon Boxx, but now you have so many players that play internationally, because of how interwoven and how much more globalized the sport has become.” 

This is Everybody’s In, a celebration of people making the world a better place for everyone in 2023. You’re ‘in’ if you’re making an impact. Read on to see who’s with you.

To that end, 1.12 billion viewers tuned into the Women’s World Cup final in 2019, and the NWSL continues to grow. Hammond mentions moms playing in the league, saying that it’s a development that she’s seen firsthand. What was once rare is now common, with players speaking about bringing toddlers to practice and having teammates help out while the moms run drills. Like the women she name-checks, she’s become a part of sports history in America, standing on the shoulders of the women who blazed the trail she’s currently sprinting down. 

“You look at somebody even like Allyson Felix and all of these athletes who are moms. Moms still competing at the highest level,” she says. “Even that is just something that was so unheard of even just half a generation ago. And when I was growing up, the Women's National Team was probably the biggest stage of players that you could look up to.”

Beyond working with her team, Hammond has partnered with other organizations that work to encourage athletics in marginalized communities. Nike enlisted Hammond for a campaign that saw her on billboards in L.A. and New York as part of its N7 campaign. She explains that it’s the brand’s way of giving back to indigenous communities, offering visibility and support. “I think that as I've grown both as an athlete and as an advocate, being the first Native American in the NWSL has allowed me to experience a lot of things both on and off the pitch.”

“I didn't realize what kind of impact it was going to have with people just reaching out. There were so many people that were like, ‘I'm from Navajo Nation, I'm from New Mexico, I'm from this tribe,’” she says of the reaction to her partnership with the sports giant. “And them being able to see that level of connection was unlike anything that I've ever experienced. We are not a people that are put on billboards.”

Within the league, Hammond is involved with various groups that push for the same values she wants to bring to the forefront. Working with other like minded athletes not only ensures that her voice is heard, but that she’s also a part of conversations and continues to grow and learn. Through different coalitions, she’s extended her reach to boys and communities outside her own.

“I am a part of the BWPC of the NWSL, which is the Black Women's Player Collective. And that's really focused on giving back to underrepresented communities, particularly for girls of color and Black girls who want to play soccer,” Hammond explains. “It really inspires me to one day use my career to set up camps and to be able to actually be boots on ground in Indigenous communities, because you don't realize how much, when you take the time to be face-to-face with these young girls — and not just girls, young boys, young people, and being able to interact with them — it really humanizes your experience.”

That human connection offers a chance for Hammond to take a look at what she’s done and how much more she can help both in the league and the world at large. While she’s not at the level of Messi just yet (there’s still time), she wants her story to inspire people to pursue their own passions.

“They realize, ‘Oh, they're not just superstars or celebrities or professional athletes. They're people and they had very similar journeys to you,’" she says of the individuals she meets during her outreach. “And so, I feel like the way that I always want to give back is just being my authentic self in whatever space I'm in. Whether that's on the field, off the field with young people, just doing it in a way where I just show up as me, that would be the thing I would be most excited about.”

And as for what’s next, Hammond is laser-focused on making sure that Angel City FC continues its upward trajectory. “I am most excited about making the playoffs next year, because I think we deserve it. I think our city deserves it,” she says before reminding everyone exactly why she leaves everything on the pitch each and every match: “And I think most importantly, our fans deserve it, because they show up and show out every single game.”

All the while, she’ll continue to push for inclusion and representation with as much passion and spirit that she has for the beautiful game. Her drive and excitement extends to all areas of her life — whether she’s talking about being a leader for her team or her community. “When I hear something like ‘everybody’s in,’ it's about allowing everybody to express themselves and be themselves and knowing that they can do so without any limitations,” she says. “I think that there are so many things historically, so many barriers to access and barriers to entry. Everybody's in just means that there's no threshold for entrance.”

More from

Everybody's In: A New Era for Impact

Related Articles