Alisse Ali-Christie


Copyright © Alisse Ali-Christie 2013

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the


In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

For the Degree of


In the Graduate College





As members of the Dissertation Committee, we certify that we have read the dissertation prepared by Alisse Ali-Christie, titled American Indian Collegiate Athletes: Accessing

Education through Sport and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.


Date: April 3, 2013

Nancy J. Parezo


Date: April 3, 2013

Mary Jo Tippeconnic-Fox


Date: April 3, 2013

Manley Begay


Date: April 3, 2013

Jennie Joe

Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate’s submission of the final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate College.

I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement.

________________________________________________ Date: April 15, 2013

Dissertation Director: Nancy J. Parezo



This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.

Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission, provided that an accurate acknowledgement of the source is made. Requests for permission for extended quotation from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by the copyright holder.

SIGNED: Alisse Ali-Christie




First and foremost I would like to thank my wonderful family, for all your love, laughter and emotional and spiritual support and guidance. My love and appreciation starts with my Grandpa Ali and Grammy Teddy Rose, who fill my heart with humility and offer strength and love through memory and story. You continue to bring so much love and comfort to our family. To my mom and Tia, the two women I cherish and laugh with every day. Thank you for sending me endless bags of peanut M&M’s and silly pictures, like the one with you holding the sign “we believe.” Ali girls forever!!!! To Ole and Uncle Gene, for being such wonderful fathers. Thank you to my dad for your support, and Auntie Jayne, Uncle Jack and Jordan for your continuous motivation while I have been away from home. I also want to thank my new and beautiful Joseph family:

Charlene, Harold, Carrie, Kara, Garrett, and my three amazing children, Deja, Duwala and Dillon. I love you all so incredibly much.

I want to especially thank my three strong, magnificent, encouraging and hilarious brothers; Kellen (Bubba), Chaddy and Tyty. I am the luckiest sister in the world to be able to call you my brothers. You keep me grounded through humor and to continue to remind me that love from family is the most precious gift in life. Bri, thank you for marrying my brother and for being the sister I never had, but always wanted.

I want to thank my committee, Nancy Parezo, Jennie Joe, Mary Jo Tippeconnic

Fox and Manley Begay for your patience, guidance, advice and brilliance. You have all guided me on this wonderful journey. A special thanks to Nancy Parezo for always opening your door, and for making me a better scholar. I would also like to thank the many professors that have been instrumental in my growth as a person and scholar: Tom

Holm, Luci Tapahonso, Bob Martin, Tsianina Lomawaima, Steven Crum, Teshia

Solomon, Franci Washburn, Patrisia Gonzales and Janelle Palacios.

My deepest gratitude and infinite thanks goes to all the friends who have accompanied me through the years and have stuck by my side through tears, laughter and many prayers: Gretchen Schantz (Goose), Sunny Hegwood, Jessica Metcalfe, Melissa

Blind, Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, Marinella Lentis, Cheryl Arviso, Colin and Otak Ben,

Amanda Tachine, Natalie Youngbull, Monique Tsosie, Denise Angel, Charlie Williams,

Kevin Fortuin, Luke Ryan, Spintz Harrison, Billy Stratton and Brent Bluehouse.

This dissertation was made possible by the financial assistance from the UA

American Indian Studies department, UA Native American Research and Training

Center, the UA Graduate College, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Thank you.

To the talented and extraordinary athletes who inspired this work: Vincent,

Juwan, Frank, Sweeney, Derek, Darlane, April, RaeAnne, Ashlee and Nanabah. Thank you for your dedication to the game of life, passion for our youth and your resilience.

And last, but definitely not least, to the love of my life, keeper of my heart,

Darold Harmon Joseph. We continue to walk this journey together, side by side and hand in hand. The fulfillment and happiness that you bring to my life makes me a better person, fiancé (soon to be wife), mother, daughter and friend. I love you! Yakoke!!!


For my wonderful and inspirational Grandpa Ali, my three magnificent brothers; Kellen,

Chad and Tyler, and the talented and resilient athletes.




LIST OF TABLES ...............................................................................................................9

ABSTRACT .......................................................................................................................11


COLLEGIATE ATHLETES .............................................................................................12

I. The Honor ..................................................................................................................12

II. A Personal Connection to Sport ...............................................................................16

III. Purpose/Specific Aim of Study ................................................................................21

IV. Roadmap/Outline of Dissertation ............................................................................23

V. Theoretical Framework/Why Study American Indian Athletes ................................24

VI. Education and American Indian Athletes: Previous Studies ...................................28

VII. Significance of Study ...............................................................................................31

VIII. Key Terms/Definitions ...........................................................................................32

VIV. Study Design ..........................................................................................................35

X. Limitations ...............................................................................................................40

XI. Data Analysis ...........................................................................................................41


SPORTING PRACTICE ....................................................................................................43

I. Tradition, Sport and the American Indian ................................................................45

II. The American Indian Federal Boarding School and Sports ....................................51

III. American Indian Women and Sports .......................................................................65

IV. The 1930s and Post Boarding School Experience ...................................................69

V. From Boarding School to Contemporary Education ...............................................78

VI. Youth Sports among American Indian Populations .................................................81

VII. American Indian High School Athletes ...................................................................87

VIII. Racism and Stereotypes in American Sports Culture ............................................98

CHAPTER 3: AMERICA: A SPORTS NATION ...........................................................106

I. Youth Sports and Development in America ............................................................107

A. Youth Sport and Education ................................................................................110

B. Negative Effects of Sport on Youth Development ..............................................112

C. Sport in “At-Risk” Communities .......................................................................115

D. Bonding vs. Bridging.........................................................................................118

II. Sport and Education ...............................................................................................124

A. Interscholastic (High School) Athletics ..............................................................124

B. High School Athletics and Academic Performance............................................126

C. Intercollegiate Athletics/National Collegiate Athletic Association ...................127

D. The Contemporary NCAA Athlete ......................................................................132

E. Student-Athlete Identity .....................................................................................140



F. NCAA and Student-Athlete Graduation Rate ....................................................147

G. Title IX/Women in Intercollegiate Athletics .......................................................154

H. African American/Black Student-Athletes ..........................................................159

III. American Indian/Alaska Natives in Higher Education .........................................163

IV. American Indian Identity and Identity Formation .................................................168

V. The Contemporary American Indian Collegiate Athlete Demographics ................184

VI. American Indian Coaches and Administrators ......................................................190

VII. American Indian Collegiate Athletes: Looking Forward .....................................199


NARRATIVES ................................................................................................................201

I. Juwan Nuvayokva ...................................................................................................202

II. Vincent Littleman ....................................................................................................214

III. Sweeney Windchief ................................................................................................222

IV. Frank Sage .............................................................................................................231

V. Derek Nugwey Johnson ...........................................................................................240


NARRATIVES ................................................................................................................249

I. Darlane Santa Cruz ................................................................................................249

II. April Clairmont .......................................................................................................259

III. RaeAnne West ........................................................................................................267

IV. Ashlee Beetso .........................................................................................................278

V. Nanabah Sunshine Allison Brewer .........................................................................287


COLLEGIATE ATHLETES ...........................................................................................300

I. American Indian Collegiate Athlete Demographic Overview ................................300

II. Research Question 1 ...............................................................................................307

A. Opportunities Provided by Sport ........................................................................307

B. Limitations through Sport .................................................................................310

C. Introduction to Organized Sport ........................................................................314

D. The Coach/Athlete Relationship.........................................................................316

i. Youth Coaches ................................................................................................317

ii. High School Coaches .....................................................................................320

iii. Collegiate Coaches .......................................................................................323

E. The Student Comes before the Athlete in Student-Athlete ..................................327

F. When the Athlete Turns Coach ...........................................................................329

G. My Team Fostered Community ..........................................................................330

III. Research Question 2 ..............................................................................................333

A. Self-Identity through Sport .................................................................................334

B. Identifying as a Native and an Athlete ...............................................................335



C. Sport in Conjunction with Native Community....................................................337

D. Identifying as a Native Student-Athlete on Campus...........................................338

E. The Place for Sacrifice and Hard Choices in Sport ...........................................340

F. Giving Back to Native Community through Sport ..............................................347

G. The Potential of Sport as Ceremony for Reservation Communities .................349

IV. Research Question 3 ..............................................................................................351

V. Research Question 4 ...............................................................................................359

VI. Research Question 5 ..............................................................................................359

VII. Sport as a Metaphor for Life.................................................................................361


APPENDIX A: HUMAN SUBJECTS APPROVAL ......................................................386


QUESTIONAIRE ............................................................................................................392

REFERENCES ................................................................................................................396



TABLE 3.1: Factors Relating to Sport and Youth Development ....................................114

TABLE 3.2: At-Risk Youth and Sport Development ......................................................117

TABLE 3.3: Youth Sports National Report Card (2005) ................................................121

TABLE 3.4: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race & Ethnicity Frequencies for Division

I, II, and III Overall (1999-2010) .....................................................................................134

TABLE 3.5: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race & Ethnicity Percentages for Division

I, II, and III Overall (1999-2010) .....................................................................................135

TABLE 3.6: Estimated Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies for

Division I, II and III Overall, by Sport (1999-2000) .......................................................136

TABLE 3.7: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Percentages for Division

I, II and III Overall, by Sport (1999-2000) ......................................................................137

TABLE 3.8: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies for Division

I, II and III Overall, by Sport (2009-2010) ......................................................................138

TABLE 3.9: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Percentages for Divisions

I, II and III Overall, by Sport (2009-2010) ......................................................................139

TABLE 3.10: NCAA Division I Student-Athlete GSR (1998-2004) ..............................150

TABLE 3.11: Division I Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies by Sport (2009-2010) .......................................................................................................187

TABLE 3.12: Division II Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies for by Sport (2009-2010) .................................................................................................188

TABLE 3.13: Division III Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies by Sport


TABLE 3.14: Male/Female Head Coaches Overall Positions by Race/Ethnicity and Sport (2009-2010) .....................................................................................................191

TABLE 3.15: Overall Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Head Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Men’s Teams, 2009-2010) ....................................................192


TABLE 3.16: Overall Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Head Coaches by Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Women’s Teams, 2009-2010) ..........................................193

TABLE 3.17: Male/Female Assistant Coaches Overall Positions by Race/Ethnicity and Sport (2009-2010) .....................................................................................................194

TABLE 3.18: Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Assistant Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Men’s Teams, 2009-2010) ....................................................195

TABLE 3.19: Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Assistant Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Women’s Teams, 2009-2010) ...............................................196

TABLE 3.20: Overall Male/Female Athletic Administrative Staff Positions by

Race/Ethnicity (2009-2010) .............................................................................................197

TABLE 3.21: Overall Percentages of Other Male/Female Athletic Administrative

Staff by Race/Ethnicity (2009-2010) ...............................................................................198

TABLE 6.1: Female American Indian Collegiate Athlete Breakdown of Tribe,

Sport, University/Division, Years Competed, Scholarships Received and

Current Education Level/Employment ............................................................................302

TABLE 6.2: Male American Indian Collegiate Athlete Breakdown of Tribe,

Sport, University/Division, Years Competed, Scholarships Received and

Current Education Level/Employment ............................................................................303



Few activities have the power to bring people together as sports; victory is contagious, defeat unifies, and the concept of a team can create common goals and unbreakable bonds among teammates, communities, and even an entire nation. In a sense, sport has the power to change lives. The lessons that athletics can teach—preparation, competitiveness, overcoming obstacles, persistence, mental and physical health, problem solving, and setting life goals—seem particularly apt for American Indian youth today.

Athletics can serve as a pathway to college for American Indian students who participate in individual or team sports. Access to higher education, in turn, offers the opportunity for larger income and greater economic opportunities. The American Indian students’ college experience, including statistics on enrollment, retention and drop-out rates, is prevalent in both quantitative and qualitative research. Moreover, research concerning the roles athletes and athletics have within higher education institutions is historically rich. The intersection of these two topics however, has received little to no attention.

This dissertation will explore the impact of sports on American Indian collegiate athletes to determine the factors that both inspired and inhibited them from the pursuit of athletics in college. It will provide the first in-depth look at several American Indian collegiate athletes who can document how sports helped or failed to help them reach their educational aspirations.





I. The Honor

“It is a great honor to stand up here and represent our Grandpa Ali. Unfortunately we were unable to personally know him because he passed at such a young age, but his spirit and essence have lived on through stories we were told growing up. The number of times we have been told, ‘your Grandfather gave me my first glove,’ or ‘Mr. Ali was the most influential person in my life’ are uncountable. All four of us had the privilege of playing basketball in the Albert Ali Gymnasium, where we felt his humble and happy spirit for competition and athletics. But more importantly, we have felt his passion for life and importance of family that he passed down to his two daughters. Similarly to our parents, the four of us have turned to working with youth and sharing our Grandpa’s influence in hopefully providing our future generations with the importance of being physically active and pursuing an education. We have luckily felt his passion for mentorship and the importance of being a role model, both on and off the court. We would like to thank everyone for keeping our Grandpa Ali in your hearts and for sharing your stories with us,

so that Albert Ali’s story lives on, and we can share them with our kids” (Ali, 2012).

On May 31, 1968, Albert Ali lay in a hospital bed dying, blinded by a disease that would soon take his spirit to another place. Over the telephone he heard a gymnasium filled with hundreds of people present to honor him as a man, husband, father, athlete, teacher, and friend. Over the loud speaker he heard the gym dedicated to him in

13 thanksgiving for his love and devotion to athletics, his sportsmanship on and off the court, and his kind and generous demeanor as a coach, teacher, and friend. On March 31,

2012, forty-four years later, my grandfather was inducted into the Northern California

Sports Hall of Fame. The excerpt above is from the induction speech that my three brothers and I wrote and presented in acceptance of our grandfather’s great honor. Sport has long been present and important in my family and has also served as the driving factor for me to attend college.

The community bestowed these honors because my grandfather epitomized important qualities of life: humility, kindness, unconditional love for his family and friends, resiliency, and the ability to create positive outcomes from hardships and challenges for the entire community. As an athlete, he was wonderfully adept on the gridiron, spectacular on the baseball diamond, able to generate a burst of speed on the basketball court, and a speedster on the track. At a mere 5’6” and 150 pounds, he was

MVP all four years on all his varsity high school teams. He led the baseball team to three consecutive league titles and the basketball team to two. He set two scoring records in basketball and they held for nearly 30 years. He went on to star at Placer College in

Northern California in three sports (this was a time when students could play more than one sport in college). He was a three-time Sierra Football All-League as a running back and led his team to three straight championships. Lanelle Lee, a close family friend remembers, “You can’t describe what it was like to watch him play. His determination; he wanted to win. He was so enthusiastic about all sport. It was just his life” (Barstow,

2012, p. B2).


Following college, my grandpa Ali signed a professional contract with the

Chicago White Sox as a pitcher. After remarkable wins in his first five starts in the minor leagues, he was suddenly afflicted with a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis.

Unfortunately, the problem spread and there was little to do about the autoimmune condition in those days except try to control the pain. The chronic disease forced him to retire in his early twenties; he was confined to a wheelchair by his early thirties. When his disease prevented him from continuing his professional baseball career, he returned home to the community which had loved and supported him. Now he played catch with young boys who looked up to him, and showed children that the most precious gift of life is to be happy with who you are, whatever the hardships life imposed. He had a surviving and resilient mentality.

In the years after he stopped competing, Grandpa Ali continued making a difference in the lives of those around him; he did not stop or wallow in self-pity. He earned his teaching credentials from Sacramento State and Chico State. He spent many years teaching and coaching at the local elementary school, starting several youth and adult leagues that still exist today. Lee commented that, “When he came back to teach, he did so much for those kids, he meant so much to all those kids” (Barstow, 2012, p. B2).

At 35, his arthritis flared significantly, forcing him to stop working and spend the rest of his short yet resonant life in a hospital bed.

Of Albanian and Mexican descent, my grandfather’s American dream did not concentrate on capitalistic assessments of personal prosperity through the accumulation of money and individual advancement at the expense of family or community. What he

15 valued was people and interacting with them—sitting around the kitchen table, holding his daughters in his lap, or sharing a cup of coffee with loved ones. Although I never met this man whose life was taken at the young age of 39, his presence has always been strong through story and laughter. He is, in essence, legendary and a role model for our family. Throughout his short time on earth he knew how to live and he lived 110 percent, instilling love and compassion to not only his immediate family, but to an entire community that extends generation upon generation.

Albert Ali was a man who, through his athletic talents and sportsmanship, was recognized as a sports phenomenon in the 1930s and 1940s. Athletics offered him the opportunity to share his passions and talents and the chance to give them back to the ones he loved and who loved him. He exemplified that organized team and individual sport transcend the playing field and can serve as a guide for how to live our lives with healthy dignity, what many American Indians call wellness, balance, and harmony. His teachings and passion for athletics became important to me and they have provided a model of what a healthy, well-balanced life should be like.

On the night the gym was dedicated, my Grandpa proclaimed, “It is so great to have fan support whether in the ball game or at the bat for life itself. It gives me the extra fight in this game of life so necessary to meet the challenges no matter what the odds”

(Barstow, 2012, p. B2). I know my grandfather was honored by the gym dedication and would have been grateful for the Northern California sports induction, but he was prouder and more humbled by the outpouring of love from the community that he cherished.


Walking down “Ali Avenue” at the local high school, playing high school basketball in the gym named after my grandfather, and receiving the “Albert Ali Sports

Award,” which is presented to the most accomplished male and female senior athlete every year at my high school, are gifts, experiences, and memories that I cherish. In each,

I feel his presence and his desire for life. When a 60 year-old man hugs me and cries after finding out I am Albert Ali’s granddaughter, I feel awe. I have an undying respect for an ancestor who I can call Grandpa. I do know that my Grandpa Ali epitomizes the tribute,

“a true champion is one who remains calm in situations that unnerve the ordinary.” His talents and personal attitude stretched far beyond the county line and are treasured by those who knew him and who have heard his story. I know it was sport and athletic activities that provided him with the discipline, the knowledge, the confidence, and the skills to be able to impart his wisdom to others, including to me. Sport is important. Sport enables.

II. A Personal Connection to Sport

I have long considered myself an athlete; athletics has been a part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. Whether it was hearing these stories of my remarkable grandfather, playing basketball with my brothers, catching a baseball with my dad, or spending endless hours hitting groundstrokes with my mom on the tennis court, I lived and breathed sports as I grew up. My grandmother relocated from Choctaw territory in

Oklahoma to Northern California in the 1940s, along with a number of other American

Indians during and after World War II. Here she met my Grandpa Ali. My grandparents soon established a home in California; as Grandpa Ali became the local sports star and


Grammy had two daughters, they were embraced by the local community. With such strong and deep roots created by my grandparents, my mother and aunt decided to remain in California and raise their children there, since a majority of our Choctaw family had relocated there as well. With little to do besides school, sport became my life.

My dad was a tennis professional at the local racquet club and my mom coached the high school women’s tennis team, so I grew up on the tennis court and, luckily, I loved it. I often played against boys who were older and better than I was, a situation that forced me to excel, to strive harder to be the best given my ability. Participating in tennis, basketball, and softball as a youth and adolescent gave me many benefits, both physically and mentally, as well as academically, allowing me to earn a scholarship and play tennis in college. The game has also defined who I am and how I see myself; it helps me know my capabilities are greater than I think and how hard work and resolution can aid me in achieving my goals. Pursuing a college degree was a goal I set for myself growing up. In my Choctaw culture, education has historically been very important. We have a saying,

Nan ikhvnanchi, nan ihvnanchi, keyu hokma pi illachi, which means Educate, educate or

we perish.

In 1815 Choctaws invited missionaries into Mississippi for the sole purpose of educating their children in American ways and English. Tribal leaders felt the only hope for our people lay in the education of the young and the adoption of European institutions. Although the use of formalized schooling was an instrument to transform the

Choctaw culture for some, and while some resisted this change, many Choctaw leaders and tribal members welcomed schooling as necessary for their national survival. In the


Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek,


they negotiated funding for schools in Oklahoma as part of the removal agreement. Soon after arriving in Oklahoma as a result of the Trail of

Tears in 1838, Choctaws set up their own school systems. Tribal leaders favored schools because they believed Euro-American education would protect them from federal and state governmental policies as well as the intrusion of white settlers. Thus, we see that the importance of education was embraced by the Choctaw people and this is one reason why it is so imperative to them today (Crum, 2003).

However, the passion driving me towards college was not solely obtaining a degree, knowledge or a skill that would help me and my community; it was also playing collegiate tennis. During high school, tennis motivated me to seek a college education.

This meant playing tennis for four hours a day, waking up at 4am in order to go for a run and work on my endurance, and staying up well into the night studying to earn a 4.0 GPA which would give me a better chance to receive a collegiate scholarship. I also knew that competing under pressure and performing well in front of others was as important as hitting the ball forcefully and accurately if I wanted to be recruited. I spent weekends traveling to tournaments around California, earning a top ten ranking in the Northern

California Juniors in 1998, an accomplishment that caught the eye of college coaches.

My time and dedication proved successful; I won the Northern California San Joaquin

Sections my senior year in high school and I received scholarship offers from four universities in California. My dream, which I had had since the first day I picked up a


Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. (September 27, 1830).

19 tennis racquet at six years old, had come true. Doors had opened—a good path, as my

Choctaw ancestors would say, was before me.

After much reflection, I decided to attend the University of California, Davis

(UCD). There were many reasons for this decision; one was the possibility of mentorship.

It was there that I had felt the strongest connection with the coach and team during the recruiting trip. In addition, the campus was only an hour and a half away from home and family and interaction with my family was and has remained very important to me.

Academically, UCD had a Native American Studies Program, a major I was interested in pursuing in order to work for and give back to my Choctaw community. I made the right choice.

Throughout my four years at Davis, I played collegiate tennis on a full scholarship. But, as happens for some collegiate athletes, it was never my entire life. My new community called. I became actively involved with the Native American Student

Association (NASA) and served as chair of the Native American Culture Days and Pow

Wow on campus. I was also elected president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee

(SAAC), where I acted as the liaison between all student-athletes and the UCD

President’s office, making sure the student-athlete voice was heard around campus.

Volunteering for these positions ultimately balanced my college experience, so I gained greater awareness and confidence in fostering dialogue between the different sectors of my college life. My positions gave me the opportunity to bring in Billy Mills as the main speaker for the Native American Culture Days in 2001. Mills, a Lakota man, was a star runner at Haskell Indian College in 1955-57 and went on to win the Gold Medal in the


10,000 meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The audience was filled with people affiliated with Native American Studies and student-athletes.

These personal experiences made me realize that college did not have to be the isolating experience for American Indian students that I have often read about, nor must student-athlete be primarily submerged in sport for her or him to succeed. Balance is important. It also became apparent that there was a lack of American Indian representation in contemporary college athletics. Mills noted this in his talk as well as discussed the responsibilities of athletes like himself and by extension all in the audience.

Billy Mills emphasized the importance of the American Indian athletic role models fostering change in our youth and communities. This began to spark my passion for empowering more American Indian people to pursue the sport they love in college.

In 2003 I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Native American Studies. Tennis had allowed me to compete in a sport I love and remain physically active; it also had introduced me to the Native American collegiate community and provided an education pathway that has led me to encourage other Native youth to pursue their dreams using sports as a means of access.

During the first year of my doctoral program, while taking an American Indian

Higher Education class, Nanabah Brewer, a fellow student (and participant in this study), presented a paper on American Indian collegiate athletes. She highlighted a chart from the 2002-2003 National Collegiate Athletic Association Race/Ethnicity Report in order to show the low numbers of American Indian collegiate athletes. As a collegiate tennis player during that time, I recognized that there were only two American Indian collegiate

21 tennis players charted. I immediately raised my hand and proclaimed that those statistics represented my brother and me. Although it was intriguing to recognize my contribution to sport and that my Grandpa Ali would be pleased with his grandchildren, it also saddened me. With all the benefits playing a college sport has to offer, too few American

Indians have the opportunity to take advantage of this experience. Perhaps sports today, with its “multiple meanings,” as noted by Bloom, can offer hope and a positive means for

American Indian peoples to achieve a higher education. American Indians have long used sport as a means to achieve a sense of pride, self-esteem, respect, spiritual connection, self-determination, and sovereignty (Bloom, 2000, p. xvii). Just as my grandfather acted as a role model on and off the playing field, American Indian student-athletes alike have the ability to foster hope and change in their communities.

III. Purpose/Specific Aim

Sports can act as a motivational force, encouraging athletes to attend college, and where their continued participation requires them to perform academically, socially, and physically well in college (Woods, 2007, p. 116). The purpose of this study is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences and motivations of American

Indian collegiate athletes. By encouraging American Indian collegiate athletes to share their own experiences, this study aims to explore whether sports is perceived as a means to obtain a college degree. The contribution from this study will add to what little is known about the impact of sports among American Indian people as well as American

Indian collegiate athletes as role models for the younger generations. This dissertation is a qualitative, exploratory study designed to address the following research questions;


(1) How does playing a collegiate sport either facilitate or hinder an individual’s pursuit of higher education?

(2) How does participating in collegiate sports affect an individuals’ American Indian identity?

(3) Do collegiate athletes have a lifelong motivation to maintain personal fitness and health?

(4) What associations exist to help and encourage American Indian people participate in a collegiate sport?

(5) What can be done to help young American Indians pursue sports in conjunction with higher education?

The purpose of addressing these questions is to (1) explore whether competing in collegiate sports serves as a positive goal in obtaining higher education for American

Indian athletes; (2) explore why we see so little American Indian representation in collegiate athletics; (3) aim to increase the number of American Indian collegiate athletes; (4) fill a scholarly void as no substantive scholarship concerning American

Indian collegiate athletes and the historical significance of their quest for a college degree exists. My goal is not to make generalizations, but to create a set of questions for future research. This stage is exploratory and therefore involves a small research population size.


IV. Roadmap/Outline of Dissertation

In Chapter 2 (The American Indian Athlete and Sports Demographics) I pen a brief review of traditional American Indian sports, American Indian athletes, the boarding school experience, high school sports on reservations, and the racial and stereotypical American Indian imagery within American sports. Chapter 3(America: A

Sports Nation) will provide an overview of the history of sport in educational systems, including youth and high school sports in the United States, the history of the National

Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), gender and sport, race and sport, and discuss the formation of the Athletic Identity. Moreover, education literature, college demographics, and the descriptive statistics used by authors will provide evidence of the existence of many historical and contemporary barriers that affect the success of

American Indian people in higher education. The contemporary American Indian athlete demographics will be covered. Chapter 4 (American Indian Male Student-Athlete

Narratives) and Chapter 5 (American Indian Female Student-Athlete Narratives) will introduce the American Indian collegiate athletes that were interviewed for this study, and begin to uncover the themes that, through the analysis of data, became applicable to the American Indian collegiate athlete’s experience. Chapter 6 (Analyzing the Collective

Voice of American Indian Collegiate Athletes) will answer the five research questions and analyze the over-arching themes that resulted from thematic coding of the qualitative interviews. Chapter 7 (Sport as a Metaphor for Life) presents my conclusions, recommendations, and implications of findings for future research.


V. Theoretical Framework/Why Study American Indian Athletes?

This study focuses on both the historical and contemporary importance of sports for American Indians living in both urban and reservation communities. Although the social meanings of athletics have changed over the centuries, some team sports and individual athletic activities have been seen in the past, and continue to be seen today, as important measures of tribal cultural sovereignty, conceptualized as ways to ensure successful health and a well-balanced life. As such, they can be seen as paths to ensure traditionalism or the continuation of what is valued in culture. Today, sports like marathon and long-distance running are seen as symbols of cultural revitalization as well as avenues for obtaining scholarships to pay for college. Sports have also been seen as ways to safeguard community, especially as ways to defeat age-old rivalries. Few activities have the power to bring people together as sports; victory is contagious, defeat unifies through grieving and ultimately instills resiliency, and the concept of a team can create common goals and unbreakable bonds among teammates, fans, communities, and even an entire nation. In a sense, sport has the power to change lives. As a social domain, sports have not only encouraged the assimilation of indigenous individuals, but facilitated resistance to assimilation, the preservation of cultural traditions, and the reformulation of cultural identities and adaptations (Bloom, 2000).

Theoretically, participation in collegiate sports for American Indians can either serve as a bridge between two different cultures or contribute to keep them marginalized on the periphery of mainstream society. Most American Indian athletes tend to live in the borderland of two or more cultures, a place where people from different races or


“ethnicities” come together. Borderlands are spaces both metaphorical and real, permeable but emotionally charged, and with the potential for radical transformation of one’s consciousness. Borderlands are physically present whenever two or more cultures come into contact (Bomberry, 2005, p. 21-22). These borderlands might more appropriately be called contact zones, a term that refers to the space of colonial encounters, a space in which people who have been geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict—sources of great pain and disappointment (Bomberry, 2005, p. 21-22). The works of several scholars have historically examined the dynamic interactions and intersections of the space of sport. Pratt (1992) proposes the concept of contact zone to describe the dynamic aspects of colonial cultural encounters and how this concept is applicable to sports. In addition to the issues of domination and subjugation, contact zones reveal the intricate ways in which new identities and new spaces are constantly being negotiated. Giroux (1994) reiterated the shifting of identities and cultural categories that occurs through the contact of different cultural groups, perspectives, and goals. He calls for a “need to construct a notion of border identity that challenges any essentialized notion of subjectivity while simultaneously demonstrating that the self as a historical and cultural formation is shaped in complex, related, and multiple ways through its interactions with numerous and diverse communities” (p. 38).

These works provide a viable concept that explores the nature of not only individual, but also group movement within and between the space of sport and other

26 social and institutional spaces in society. As a result, American Indian collegiate athletes have the potential to create border identities at the intersection of sport, school, and a

Native culture, successfully acting as agents not only for themselves, but also for their communities. King (2005) believes that understanding sporting worlds as contact zones allows us to unpack athletic heritage, imagery and identity, adaptation and appropriation, racism and revival. It also allows us to understand how sports and education interact in real individuals’ lives and to offer suggestions to educational systems on how to effectively utilize sports for the benefit of their students.

Sports, especially football and baseball, often empowered American Indian athletes, enabling them to use both their mind and bodies to reverse the dominantsubordinate roles, and beat the whites at their own game (Gems, 2005, p. 12). As

American Indian students were forced to attend governmental boarding schools, they were often coerced to adapt white culture into their own tradition and values in order to survive. Although boarding schools were sites of assimilation and marginalization that ultimately aimed at “killing the Indian and saving the man,” a number of American

Indian athletes were able to act as social agents by living within two worlds, bridging both cultures, and adopting the dominant norms when necessary or beneficial (Bloom,

2000, p. xxi). At boarding schools, and later in the professional arena, sports provided a means to negotiate white society and multiple identities or roles, challenge stereotypes, and oftentimes claim a measure of revenge and retaliation against dominant society.

Bloom concludes that sports in boarding school athletic programs “created a context for the celebration of intertribal cooperation and identity, sometimes on a scale

27 rarely ever seen before” (2000, p. 37). During the era of assimilation and structural accommodation, where Native ways of life conflicted in many respects with the Anglo-

Americans’ and it was felt that Natives needed to be assimilated in order to survive, sports allowed American Indian people to promote their culture and indigenousness, although in the face of colonization and it effects.

By conceiving sport activities as a contact zone, scholars have the opportunity to explore the multiple levels of sports in relation to American Indian people’s assimilation, adaptation, and agency. Since sports as a contact zone has persisted through to the twenty-first century, exploring heritage and traditions, exchanges and opportunities, assimilation and resistance, popular stereotypes and media coverage, and contemporary

American Indian voice and agency is possible. Unfortunately, sport has been defined as a

Euro-American domain and too many scholars are unaware of the rich heritage and lasting contributions of indigenous peoples and communities to this realm of social and cultural activity, as well as the connection to important issues such as policy, economics, sovereignty, self-determination, and spirituality. Just as American Indian athletes in the boarding school era created identities and agency at sites of inequality, contemporary

American Indian athletes have the ability to re-energize their prowess in the sports arena, reclaim history, and act as positive role models for youth and communities.

Situating contemporary collegiate athletics as a contact zone for American Indian athletes provides a new and fruitful interpretive perspective on the practice of selfdetermination, resilience, and assertion of tribal sovereignty, both on and off the playing field. Partaking in sports at the collegiate level in the twenty-first century reveals racial

28 and ethnic discrimination and barriers experienced by American Indian athletes, and attempts at institutionalized marginalization. However, it more importantly creates opportunities for accomplishment for one’s self and one’s community. Collegiate athletics can produce inequality and conflict, but they can also provide a space for

American Indian voice and agency. The multiple lenses through which the contemporary

American Indian collegiate athlete can view the intersecting spaces of sport, schooling, society, community, and identity provide the possibility of successful and respectful interaction, adaption, and potential for positive change. The character of these changes embodies how individuals operate as actors or agents. Initially actors who live as scripted student-athletes performing at the will of their coaches and institutions, Native student-athletes eventually become agents who take responsibility for the direction of their lives. Becoming an active agent reflects the development and consciousness in understanding of how the body is racialized, gendered, and commodified by sport, education, and society (Mahiri and Van Rheenen, 2010). Yet, this consciousness transmits a positive action, where the actor can maneuver through his/her present situation. More importantly, this consciousness provides a space to act as a vessel for future generations. A space is created for people who have historically not been present in academics and sports, namely, American Indian collegiate athletes. Each success carves away at pejorative preconceptions and opens doors for others.

VI. Education and American Indian Athletes: Previous Studies

Scholarship and research dealing with the history of American Indian sport and athletes takes two fundamental forms (Sullivan, 2004). First, there are accounts dealing

29 with certain aspects of American Indian culture, language, and spirituality that are inherently tied to the importance of sports and games (Blanchard, 1981; Culin, 1907;

Guttman, 1977; Nabokov, 1981; Oxendine, 1995; Russell, 1997; Salter, 1977). These accounts primarily try to reconstruct the pre-contact American Indian cultures before they were contaminated by European interaction. Secondly, literature on American Indian boarding school athletes—most often the Carlisle Indian school and Athlete of the 20 th

Century Jim Thorpe—highlight the American Indian athlete who was subjected to the assimilation policies of the boarding school era and yet excelled (Bloom, 2000; Jenkins,

2010; Newcombe, 1975; Oxendine, 1988; Peavy and Smith, 2008; Stechbeck, 1951).

Although the scholarship and glorified accounts of famous and popular American

Indian athletes encourage public interest in American Indian history and highlight aspects of American Indian culture, they do not provide information about the place of sport in the lives of American Indian students in the boarding school era. With a few exceptions

(King, 2005; Salamone, 2012), contemporary literature neglects the American Indian athlete experience in present day, and once again focuses on famous indigenous professional athletes. This is a common feature of the popular sports literature in general, with often formulistic stories of individuals, coaches, and teams overcoming adversity to achieve “greatness.”

Physical education and sport history scholarship tend to marginalize the sporting experience of minority groups. American Indians and their athletic experiences are the least understood of all ethnic or racial groups. Examining the place of sport in the lives of

American Indian student-athletes has significance for the field of sport history. It is my

30 hope that this study will stimulate a renewed interest in the unique culture of American

Indian people, lead to a better understanding of their sporting lives, and facilitate a greater access to college for American Indian athletes. Though the formal organization of sport history as a sub discipline occurred in 1973, the topic of American Indian sports and athletes continues to struggle. The majority of sport history and educational texts and journals neglect the topic, experience, and voice of American Indian people, which is deeply troubling.

A 2001 article by Selena Roberts identified obstacles that hinder American Indian students from excelling in elite colleges and professional sports. Roberts noted that prejudice and misunderstanding, lack of opportunity, the unwillingness to recruit from reservations, the isolation of reservations, and the inability of American Indian students to adjust to white institutions and expectations were all factors keeping American Indian students from being recruited to or involved in higher education institutions. Based on the extensive literature focusing on the hurdles American Indian students face from entering to graduating from college and the low percentage of both American Indian students and

American Indian student-athletes, I agree with Roberts’ assessment that they are underrepresented:

Only 310 American Indians were among the 70,856 college athletes in

Division I who received athletic aid in the 1998-1999 school year…while

American Indians make up about 1 percent of the country’s population, according to the 2000 census, they account for only four-tenths of a percent of the scholarship athletes at the major college level.

(Roberts, 2001, p. 1)

Roberts is correct in directing attention to the negligible presence of American

Indians in sports and lack of athletic scholarship money. However, Roberts’ reporting

31 obscures, rather than clarifies, the extent of American Indian athletic success in sport, since she suggests that it is only athletes who become famous or nationally known who are successful. She neglects the numerous local contexts in which American Indians play sports and what that participation means to them and their communities. Unfortunately, little has been written about the period from the 1940s to the 1990s with regard to

American Indian male and female athletes. Yet, the contemporary American Indian college experiences, including statistics on enrollment, retention and drop-out rates, remain prevalent topics in both quantitative and qualitative research. Research concerning the roles athletes and athletics have within higher education institutions is historically rich. The intersection of these two topics, however, receives little to no attention.

VII. Significance of Study

Often, American Indian athletes have bridged two or more cultures and adopted dominant norms and values like resiliency, never-giving-up, and working together for a common goal in order to maintain a cultural identity while finding a place in the Western world. The lessons that athletics can teach—preparation, competitiveness, persistence, overcoming obstacles, mental and physical health, problem solving, and setting life goals

—seem particularly pertinent for American Indian children today. The significance of this research is to provide an in-depth look at the individual American Indian collegiate athlete experience through interviews with ten athletes. By focusing on the athletes as active agents and not just passive subjects, I draw attention to the important roles and spaces that American Indian student-athletes hold for themselves and open for future

32 generations. The intent is to add to what little is documented about the impact of sports on American Indian people as well as American Indian collegiate athletes who can hopefully serve as role models for younger generations.

Most extent data on American Indian athletes tend to focus on individual athletes.

One factor that seems to be lacking is the emotional effect of age, type of sport (team vs. individual), gender (cultural barriers), and family involvement. Research does not take into account these variables or how intercollegiate sports have changed over time for athletes.

My goal was to get a glimpse from the athletes I interview, and analyze how their experience fits within the existing literature and statistics. I am looking at the range and multiplicity of responses to each question. This information is essential for the development of a quantitative needs assessment for future research. Another goal is to supply the Department of Education and the NCAA with my findings in order to provide better insight into the American Indian collegiate athletes. I am aware of the patterns in the larger literature review (higher education and sports) and my goal is to analyze how my smaller sample size fits within the larger picture.

VIII. Key Terms/Definitions

For the purpose of this dissertation, I will use key terms and phrases as defined below. I will use the terms American Indian, American Indian/Alaska Native, AIAN,

Native American, and Indigenous interchangeably to identify the original peoples of the

United States, Canada, and Mexico. An attempt will be made to identify tribal affiliations whenever possible, thereby using the most appropriate method of reference. I define


Athlete as a person who is trained or skilled in exercise, sport, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina ( Game is referred to as a subset of play (form of activity or style of behavior); games are organized formal activities involving competitions, where two or more sides are identified. Sport is defined as “a subset of games and typically requires physical exertion by the participants. Sports usually include participants and nonparticipating observers (spectators) who enjoy the activity vicariously” (Oxendine, 1988, p. 5). The definition of sport in a given society reflects the culture, beliefs, and attitudes of that culture towards warfare, manhood, survival, and honoring the gods. Sport then, is typically defined in North America as institutionalized competitive activity that involves physical skill and specialized facilities or equipment and is conducted according to an accepted set of rules to determine a winner (Woods, p. 7, 2011). The term athletics will be used interchangeably with sport.

For the purpose of this dissertation, interscholastic sport or high school sport covers grades 9 through 12. At the national level, the National Federation of State High

School Associations (NFHS) provides education, publishes rules for sport competition, information, research, and provides guidance to the state association (


Sports at both public and private schools are typically governed by local leagues, adhere to rules established by the state association, and are therefore, eligible for regional and state play-offs (Woods, p. 117, 2011).

Intercollegiate sport or college sport, refers to those athletic programs at fouryear institutions that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association

(NCAA), by far the largest and most influential organization for college sport. Rules for

34 conducting college sport are determined by NCAA member schools and enforced by their professional staff. The NCAA is divided into three divisions (I, II, and III). Colleges determine the division at which they will compete provided they meet the requirements of that level. There are also other local branches of intercollegiate athletic associations, such as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which includes about 300 smaller schools mainly in the South. Moreover, over 100 Christian colleges have membership with the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA), although most have dual membership with the NCAA. The National Junior College

Athletic Association (NJCAA) governs over 550 two-year institutions (Woods, 2011, p.

124-125). I include in my survey only American Indian collegiate athletes who attend a school governed by the NCAA. Therefore, I identify American Indian collegiate athlete as a person (male or female) who self-identifies as American Indian, is currently, or has in the past 20 years, competed in a team or individual sport at a NCAA (I, II, or III) sanctioned college or university.

When explaining traditional forms of play in American Indian societies, the terms

games and sport are used interchangeably. Sports could occur as individual activities such as chungke, archery, or snow snake. However, team games such as lacrosse and shinny attracted large audiences and are closer to what most Americans generally referred to as sports. When referring to intercollegiate sport, both team (football, basketball, volleyball) and individual (running, wrestling) fall into this category.


VIV. Study Design

The purpose of this study is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the experiences and motivations of American Indian collegiate athletes. By allowing

American Indian collegiate athletes to share their own experiences, this study aims to explore whether sports is perceived as a mechanism to obtain a college degree. American

Indian athletes, like American Indian artists, educators, and politicians, have acted as social agents while living within two worlds, transcending borderlands and transcultural

contact zones. Yet, rarely have they had an opportunity to have their stories heard.

My goal is not to make generalizations, but to create a set of questions for future research.

The approach is a comparative-based research method that starts with in-depth interviews around the topics of inquiry. Based on published and documentary sources supplemented by what I have learned directly from the athletes, I include the role of sports in boarding schools during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the role sports has played in negotiating American Indian identity and agency since the beginning of the reservation period, and how American Indian collegiate and professional athletes walked a journey towards a college degree based on a re-analysis of information in the published literature and pertinent historic documents. Sports have played a pivotal role in American efforts to make sense of race, power, and culture. I sought to understand sport as a social, cultural, economic, and political activity through the perspectives, frameworks, and voices of American Indian athletes in order to identify themes such as physical and mental health, heritage preservation, cultural and social change, gender,

36 racism, cultural revitalization, identity, and the role sports play within their own communities.

My research population consists of 10 individual men (five) and women (five) who self-identify as American Indian and who have or are currently participating in collegiate athletics in NCAA divisions I, II, or III. I aimed to ensure gender participation based on current percentages of male and female athletes in colleges. Although I am aware that American Indians also play sports at the NAIA, Junior College, or Tribal

College levels, these institutions will be saved for another project. The settings for these interviews were public and non-reservation based. Participants were not from one specific tribe. However, due to my location in southwest Arizona, a majority of my participants were from Arizona communities, particularly Navajo. Participants were able to choose whether they wanted to be interviewed in person, over the phone, or via Skype.

I interviewed five participants in person, three over the phone, and two via Skype. For those interviewed in person, each chose public locations as places where they were interviewed. The sport played varied, as I looked at both team sports, including football, baseball, volleyball, basketball, and softball, and individual sports like running and wrestling. Research participants are all adult athletes over the age of 18. The only relevant inclusion criteria were the ability to identify the sport(s) participated in at the collegiate level and to self-identify as American Indian.

Negotiating my way through college as a Native tennis player made me aware of how sport impacts educational access, learning experience, and motivation to succeed in the classroom. This facilitated a somewhat insider perspective on analysis and

37 interpretation of sport in the educational experience of American Indian collegiate athletes. To gain a deeper understanding, however, I strove to have interviewees share stories and examples, to explain and clarify often, and to offer contrasting examples between their own and others’ experience as a collegiate athlete.

I conducted narrative inquiry using a single, semi-structured interview that is qualitative and exploratory in nature. Narrative inquiry through interview data collection allowed me to interact directly with participants and explore individual meaning-making and interpretations (Creswell, 2007; Kvale and Brinkman, 2009). Data collection with a focus on how culture fits into experience is strengthened through an open-ended interview process, allowing for multiple and diverse responses about a range of experiences (Brayboy & Maughan, 2009; Covarrubias & Windchief, 2009). Moreover, the use of descriptive research to describe the experiences in social, educational, and cultural settings, conduct in-depth studies with small samples, and study the systems that already exist is particularly critical when dealing with American Indian peoples and communities, as oral tradition and visual communication are key aspects of how knowledge is shared and transferred. A qualitative approach is better suited than a quantitative study in an exploratory inquiry due to the small number of American Indian collegiate athletes. In a qualitative methodology the researcher looks at populations in a holistic context and tries to understand people from their own viewpoint and authoritative context for knowledge (Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Moreover, since this study is the first of its kind, identifying all important research questions that are grounded in actual experience and getting a range of responses, not only discovering a single causal factor or

38 variable, is essential. In a holistic, exploratory study we need to ask multiple questions until we acquire more information surrounding American Indian collegiate athletes.

One technique I used was asking people to tell me their stories. Storytelling is a meaningmaking process, a way of knowing. The meaning participants make of their experiences is especially critical to understanding students who are from different cultures and classes

(Brayboy and Maughan, 2009) and creates an opportunity for voice and agency for specific populations, such as American Indian populations.

Social networking was used to contact individuals who have been publically identified (in American Indian newspapers, at athletic competitions, on the Internet where their American Indian heritage is noted) as athletes who currently participate or have participated in a collegiate sport in the last 20 years. I also utilized snowball sampling, where existing athletes recruited future interviewees from their acquaintances (Castillo,

2009). Once I interviewed a participant, I asked him/her to provide me with names of other current or past American Indian collegiate athletes that he/she might know. This aided in my search for participants.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted verbally as a relaxed conversation with research participants. In addition, the interviewees were encouraged to discuss other issues that they felt were important and to discuss college and sport experiences in their own fashion. With the semi-structured interview approach, I used emergent probing questions, asking participants to clarify, share examples, tell a story, and make recommendations based on their own experiences as American Indian collegiate athletes.


Each interview lasted about an hour and was conducted following a semi-structural interview protocol and IRB protocols for non-invasive and non-risky research. Three participants chose a phone interview and two were interviewed via Skype. I was concerned that building trust might be difficult over the phone and via Skype, yet participants seemed very eager to share their experiences in depth. Moreover, participants were very encouraging with regard to my research project, and all expressed their gratitude to me for taking on this important and much needed research.

Once I identified American Indian collegiate athletes, I asked potential interviewees if they were currently college athletes, or had been within the past 20 years.

If the answer was yes, I then asked if they would be willing to participate in this dissertation research. Recruitment began with Human Subjects approval in July 2011.

When invited to participate in the study, each individual was told about the purpose of the study. At the beginning of the interview, each individual was informed again of the purpose of the study and asked to read the information in the IRB consent form.

Interviewees were able to sign a consent form asking whether they wanted to be identified, or if a pseudonym was preferred. All interviewees agreed to be self-identified.

Each interview was recorded and transcribed, and notes were taken to maximize understanding of nuanced responses. Transcribed interviews were then sent to each interviewee to check for accuracy and for final approval to use in this dissertation.

Transcribed documentation and signed consent forms were kept in a locked filing cabinet in my office at the University of Arizona.


Interview material was supplemented by public information gathered from tribal websites, college and university websites, newspapers, and other public sources. These background sources helped me uncover the patterns that occur with American Indian collegiate athletes. I utilized information regarding American Indian higher education statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education

Statistics. These descriptive statistics are compared with other race and ethnic groups in higher education. I use statistics concerning American Indian Collegiate athletes, as well as athletes from other race and ethnic groups from the National Collegiate Athletic

Association (NCAA) website and Annual Reports.

X. Limitations

There are a number of limitations to this study. When analyzing my comparative data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the NCAA, I faced certain issues: comparing existing data with my sample size is similar to comparing apples to oranges, as sample sizes and methods of data collection vary. There is a very small sample size of American Indian collegiate athletes to work with, and while my goal is not to generalize, I found small comparisons among my participant to analyze. I also lacked funding and resources that would have allowed me to travel around the country and talk face to face with participants. Availability of the athletes was another barrier. Since participants are all over the country, and either participating in school and their sport, or working, finding time to interview was limited.


XI. Data Analysis

Audio tapes and interviewer notes from the semi-structured interviews were transcribed into an electronic format and analyzed using thematic narrative analysis. The data analysis took place over five months beginning in September 2012. Three steps were used for this narrative inquiry. First, an emergent thematic analysis was conducted in which patterns of participant responses about their experiences as an American Indian collegiate were identified and coded in all narratives (Jones, Torres and Arminio, 2006;

Marshall and Rossman, 2006). Thematic analysis interprets and compares biographies as they are constituted in the research interviews. An emergent analysis of themes or patterns enables researchers to “see what is there” and “what” is said, and not be constrained by existing models or pre-identified themes (Riessman, 2005).

Through this analysis, I worked with a single interview at a time, isolating and ordering relevant information into a biographical account. Below is a sample of information obtained during the interview:

1. Background information: Tribal affiliation, college/university attended, sports played.

2. Whether and how sports aided in the decision to pursue a college degree.

3. Whether the athlete would have attended college if it were not to play a sport.

4. Whether the athlete was recruited to play a sport and how this was done.

5. Whether they received financial aid for their sport from the college attended.


6. Whether the team/coach/school was aware of the athlete’s American Indian heritage and how this affected the athlete’s experiences (positively, neutrally, negatively) both on and off the playing field.

7. Potential athletic competition and activity after leaving college and community interaction with youth.

8. What it means to be an athlete and how that fits in with the identity of self.

After the process was completed for all ten interviews, I identified the underlying assumptions in each account and named (coding) them (Riessman, 2008, p. 57). Second, chosen themes for each individual interview were used to introduce the American Indian collegiate athlete, and to interpret the main focus of the interview. The analysis of the themes led to overarching constructs of the American Indian collegiate athlete experience. The themes and overarching constructs were then used to answer the five initial research questions. In this case, thematic analysis is applied to stories that developed in the interview. Stories can have effects beyond their explicit meanings for the storyteller, creating possibilities for social identities, group belonging, and collective action (Riessman, 2008, p. 54). Application of the three analytical steps provided a rich understanding and interpretation of American Indian collegiate athlete experience.




Running is a big part of Hopi culture. We [Hopi] believe it is in our blood, we are born to run. We compare it to the movie Apocalyptical, where you are practically surviving, running for [your] life-and that is a big deal in Hopi. Surviving. And that is a part of our

culture, and we survived. –Juwan Nuvayokva (Hopi)

My personal experience has led me to believe that sport is and can be a pathway to college for American Indian students who participate in individual or team sports.

Sport can be a vehicle by which American Indian athletes obtain educational opportunities through scholarship support, which lessens their financial burdens. Because collegiate sport is valued, there are thousands of athletes who earn university degrees while participating in the sport they love. Yet, why are there so few American Indians collegiate athletes? I come from a family, for example, that has benefited from earning an education through sport. My youngest brother played basketball at California State

University, Stanislaus, has had the opportunity to gain financial support, and to travel around California as well as compete and stay physically healthy throughout his college career. My oldest brother won a Division III National Tennis Championship at the

University of California, Santa Cruz. Moreover, I have spoken with or heard about hundreds of Native American collegiate athletes across the United States and Canada, yet these numbers are still small. Historically, American Indian individuals have pursued college degrees via sports. Many of these persons are famous and are recognized nationally.


We have all heard of Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills who played sports in the early twentieth century, but what happened between those early years and now? How did

American Indians get shoved aside in sports? Where are the contemporary American

Indian collegiate athletes? In order to answer these questions and understand the contemporary Native student-athletes experience, as well as their choices about pathways to college and their views on the importance of access to sports, some general background on the history of education, sport, and American Indian people must be presented. It is important to review the historical connection and experience that

American Indians have with sports and physical activity, as well as the role sports play within American Indian education. This chapter will therefore discuss traditional

American Indian sports, American Indian athletes and the boarding school experience, high school sports on reservations, and the racial and stereotypical American Indian imagery within American sports. This chapter will explore the history of American

Indian sports and athletes, as well as provide background knowledge on the relationship between sports and education in America. In essence, it will provide fundamental information in order to gain better insight into the lives of the American Indian collegiate athletes interviewed in this dissertation. The first things that will be pointed out are the critical participation of Native Americans in the history and development of many important sports in the United States and Canada and the many famous Native American athletes.


I. Tradition, Sport, and the American Indian

Most American Indian societies have historically placed a high value on physical abilities and competition as means to earn status, honor their families, communities and deities, and instill discipline and other core values like resilience, hard work, and concentration. Prior to contact with Europeans (pre-contact) tribes held suites of tribal or intertribal sporting events and contests. Ethnohistorical monographs as well as observational reports from travelers and explorers documented extensive sport activity among many tribes. The great diversity of physical activities among traditional American

Indian cultures makes it difficult to generalize about Indian athleticism; however, Culin’s

(1907) Games of North American Indians and Oxendine’s (1988) Sports and Games in

Traditional Indian Life document the importance of traditional sports. Both show that individual athletic accomplishments and sport contests were interrelated with social issues and melded with tradition, ritual, and ceremony (Oxendine, 1988, p. xiii). Culin’s foundational scholarship, compiled as an encyclopedic comparative ethnological study, describes the types of sports and games played in different cultures. Oxendine updates

Culin, expanding and humanizing the findings of the earlier study.

In order to understand American Indian sports over time and appreciate the social and cultural roles of contemporary American Indian athletes and sports, one must recognize the cultural foundations of a sport and place these activities in a historical perspective. There is always a cultural connection to any sport. Oxendine identifies the most important factors characterizing traditional American Indian sport: (a) the strong connection between sport and other social, spiritual, and economic aspects of daily life;


(b) preparation of mind, body, and spirit of both participants and community; (c) rigid adherence to standardized rules and technical precision was unimportant; (d) strong allegiance to high standards of sportsmanship and fair play; (e) prominence of both males and females in sport activity; (f) a special perspective on team and membership and on interaction and leadership styles; (g) the widespread and vital component gambling played, and (h) the importance of art as an expression of identity and aesthetics (1988, pg.

3-4). Moreover, Oxendine identifies four common religious connections to sport in areas of : (a) mortuary practices; (b) challenging and curing sickness; (c) requests for climate change, like prayers for rain; and (d) ensuring fertility (1988, pg. 7). As sports enhanced the health and conditions of life, the preparations that preceded a game were often more important than the outcome. Sometimes the motivation for play was general, but often participants were focused toward a specific goal. For example, traditional Choctaw

stickball was associated with healing and designed to stop suffering. It was used for preventive and curative purposes for both individual and communal healing. There are many first-hand accounts that connect the importance of games to healing and reflect the integration of spiritual beliefs, social relations, and cultural values.

In traditional American Indian societies, running had a prominent role in daily life, often integrating religious, societal, and cultural ideals. Footraces have been the most universal and popular of all Indian sports and games; traditional running activities ranged from informal play among youth to highly organized and ceremonial races of adults, which often involved whole communities. Tribal communities placed great importance on running unrelatedly to sports and games; it was recognized that people could be

47 heavily dependent on rapid flight for survival. In addition, a multitude of social concerns and daily demands required Indians to travel great distances under time limitations by foot, the only means of travel available in the years prior to horses and automobiles.

Warfare, trade, message delivery, as well as pursuit of animals for food and resources were only conducted and achieved on foot. Therefore, running was fundamental to the survival and functionality of a community. Oral tradition and written accounts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provide evidence that there have long been extraordinary running performances of historical importance among American Indians

(Oxendine, 1988).

The most well-known example of long-distance runners is the Tarahumara. The

Tarahumara Indians live in Copper Canyon, a drought-plagued region in Mexico’s Sierra

Tarahumara Mountains. They are considered the best endurance athletes on earth. The social customs and survival mechanisms of running among the Tarahumara suggest that running serves as a fundamental aspect of this people’s culture and history. Sports and games were a vibrant and inclusive part of their Indigenous culture, reflecting and often integrating spiritual beliefs, social relations, and cultural values. According to one story,

“in the old days, Tarahumara hunted deer by pursuing them on foot…[until] the prey finally toppled over in exhaustion” (Plymire, 2006, p. 158). Paiutes and Navajo in the

American Southwest are reported to have used this technique to hunt pronghorn antelope.

Similarly, Aborigines of northwestern Australia are known to have hunted kangaroo in this way (Liebenber, 2006, p. 1017). In these activities, Tarahumara and other Indigenous runners display physical endurance which exceeds the capabilities of well-trained athletes

48 in today’s American culture and cannot be examined without looking at the roles physical conditioning and running as a survival and ceremonial concept have played throughout history.

In many tribal creation stories, running played a role in relationships and world order. Anna Risser, a Zuni woman, stated, “There is nothing that Indians like so well as to run races. Maybe that is because the gods in the far past settled so many difficult questions by races” (as quoted in Nabokov, 1981, p. 23). Running as a motif in oral tradition is both instructional and entertaining. For example, Zuni believe that Gods and animals ran long before Indian men and women; therefore the Gods told people to run, and animals showed them how. Similarly, the Cheyenne tell of the mythic race which separated men from animals. Moreover, to a number of California Indian tribes, the

Milky Way emerged from foot races, either as dust kicked up in the competition between

Coyote and Wildcat, or as the tracks of Deer and Antelope in their six-day rivalry.

Running tales further serve a purpose in teaching appropriate behavior and morality, as well as function as “chalk talks,” teaching runners how to measure their stride and energy, use their heads, and seek spiritual assistance (Nabokov, 1981, p. 27).

In Indian Running, Peter Nabokov (1981) explores the spiritual and functional running systems of American Indian communities and how running has helped keep their cultures alive. This book retraces Nabokov’s eyewitness account of the six-day run commemorating the 300 th

anniversary of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which triggered the most successful Indian rebellion in American history, disrupting Spanish domination of

Pueblo societies. In August 1980 a group of Rio Grande Pueblo and Hopi Indians

49 reenacted the 375 mile courier mission which enabled the Pueblos to simultaneously attack the Spanish conquistadors who had been persecuting the seventy-plus Pueblo villages since 1589 (Nabokov, 1981; Webber, 1999). On the trek from Taos, New

Mexico, to Second Mesa, Arizona, Nabokov takes the reader through each village that once participated in the Pueblo Revolt. Each chapter not only focuses on a given Pueblo participation in the Tricentennial Commemoration, but also examines running practices of non-Pueblo societies, a scholarly technique that demonstrates that these runnersystems were in existence across North and South American lands long before Europeans appeared (Nabokov, 1981, p.18). The author uses statements from anthropologists, historians, linguists, travelers, and various American Indian people to identify the roots of

Indian running. Not only did American Indian people run for functional purposes, such as communication, fighting, and hunting; they also ran to deepen the spiritual powers of the cosmos. The commemorative run created a bridge between Pueblo runners, their

Pueblo ancestors, and the forces of the universe, symbolizing the restoration of Pueblo

Indian sovereignty. Prior to the beginning of the race, a young Hopi man stated, “We are running for the people. It goes beyond athletics. This might not be done for another 300 years. Turn around and shake the hand of your brother. This is more than a race. It means something” (as quoted in Nabokov, 1981, p. 38).

The history of Indian running functions on many levels, all of which are deeply tied to the mental, spiritual, and physical sustenance and survival of a community. Precontact running societies functioned throughout North and South America for the purpose of promoting communication and trade. In the late spring of 1680, messengers

50 assembled at Red Willow, in what is today known as Taos Pueblo, listening to Pueblo leaders who were conspiring to overthrow Spanish rule in the Southwest. Deerskin pictographs outlined the uprising and the runners were sent out to forewarn all seventy plus Pueblos the Spanish had been persecuting for nearly a century, as well as to the Hopi villages over 300 miles away. Pueblo messengers were given a bundle of knotted yuccafiber cords as countdown devices, allowing each community to know the exact day to attack. Po’pay, a Pueblo revolt leader, claimed to have gotten the idea from three masked figures, who told him to “make a string of yucca, tying a number of knots, as a token of the days they had to wait until they should break out” (as quoted in Nabokov, 1981, p.

13). As word flew on foot, the string was carried from village to village. Once the last string was untied, the Pueblo and Hopi attacked the Spanish and ran them out of their villages. The success of the revolt was heavily dependent on the ability of the runners to get to the villages quickly and deliver the messages while evading the Spanish.

The importance of delivering messages prior to the revolt was not a new phenomenon for Pueblo messengers, who like couriers in other American Indian communities, dedicated their lives to both endurance and reliability, two aspects that were extremely important in message conveyance within and between communities. In fact, Spanish writers referred to runners among the Aztec of Mexico as those “who can run like the wind” (Nabokov, 1981, p. 19). Ceremonially, Aztec runners dispersed fire from a sacred flame periodically rekindled in a central temple, as they moved in relays to convey messages. These runners trained from childhood and were known to cover one to two hundred miles a day, carrying hides with hieroglyphic writing. In May 1519, Hernan


Cortes wrote that within twenty-four hours of his landing in Chianiztlan, runners had described his ships, men, guns, and horses to Montezuma who was 260 miles away

(Nabokov, 1981, p. 19). In North America, the last accounts of runners as messengers focus on the Hopi. In 1903, Hopi men were hired to deliver messages; “For a dollar, I have several times engaged a young man to take a message from Oraibi to Keam’s

Canyon, a distance of seventy-two miles…delivered the message, and brought me an answer within thirty-six hours” (as quoted Nabokov, 1981, p. 22). Moreover, local army officers preferred hiring Hopi runners over their own horsemen to communicate with the railhead. Physical activity has always been a basic and necessary aspect of indigenous culture and it was a good way for young men to earn money as their economic system changed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Things began to change as young people were taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools. Here they learned and practiced new types of sports.

II. The American Indian Federal Boarding School and Sports

Although American Indians have always played and participated in sports, it was not until the nineteenth century that American Indian athletes began to emerge at the national level, first through Euro-American accounts of indigenous cultures, then, and more importantly, in association with the rise of sports in American academic institutions

(Bloom, 2000). The concept of community involvement and teamwork in games and sports was developed and perfected prior to European contact, yet sports were pivotal in both the assimilation of and resistance by American Indian students in the boarding school era. Sports facilitated opportunities and cultural exchange for American Indian

52 students during a time that aimed to instill western education to accelerate American

Indian cultural extinction (Adams, 1995).

A quarter of a century ago, Ward Churchill, Norbet S. Hill, and Mary Jo Barlow observed, “Although it is attempted often enough, it is impossible to consider athletics in

North America without addressing the impact of Native American athletes” (King, 2006, p. 132). American Indians have played fundamental roles in American athletics; the indigenous impact on the sports-world arose directly as a result of the boarding school system. Athletic prowess became a source of strength and identity for American Indians during their boarding school experience, and was quickly transferred to the professional sports world in America. Jim Thorpe, Louis Leroy, Albert Exendine, “Chief” Bender,

William ‘Lone Star’ Dietz, and Louis Tewanima, all products of early 20 th

century boarding school athleticism, became popular names across American sports arenas.

Moreover, athletics have been central to the historical influence of American Indian education, to interpretations of race and race relations, and the formulations of identity.

The concept of team play in sports was developed and perfected prior to European contact, yet sports were pivotal in integrating heritage and traditions, exchanges and opportunities, assimilation and resistance through the education of American Indians in the boarding school era. Since the emergence of sports as a distinct social domain in

North America in the nineteenth century, American Indians have excelled in a multitude of sports including football, baseball, basketball, running, and the indigenous sport of lacrosse (King, 2005, p. xv), yet they were and continue to be underrepresented in

53 mainstream higher education institutions. The information provided below documents the changing dynamics of American Indian athletes over time.

In 1915, Charles Eastman, physician and author, surveyed the condition of

American Indians in The Indian To-day, and highlighted the contributions of indigenous people to the general society:

In the athletic world this little race has no peer, as is sufficiently proven by their remarkable record in football, baseball, and track athletics…From the fleet Deerfoot to this day we boast the noted names of Longboat,

Sockalexis, Mebus, Pierce, Frank Hudson, Tweanima, Metoxen, Meyers,

Bender, and Jim Thorpe (King, 2005, p. xi).

Eastman himself exemplifies the American Indian emerging into mainstream society, viewing sports as a pathway towards education, assimilation, and equality. The importance of implementing sports in educational institutions had not always been emphasized, however. Only twenty-five years earlier, on December 29, 1890, the U.S.

Army had massacred Spotted Elk’s band at Wounded Knee in the last major confrontation between the United States military and American Indians. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were a series of conflicts between American

Indian people and the United States military due to Euro American expansion. Euro

American colonizers continued to advance their territories, pushing indigenous populations westward. The wars were spurred by the racist and exceptionalist ideology of

“Manifest Destiny,” which espoused that Euro-Americans were destined to expand from coast to coast. In the process, they claimed that they would save the “savage” indigenous population through Christian ideology or these people would die. This resulted in the forced removal of indigenous people from their homelands and hunting territories where


Europeans wanted to settle or exploit natural resources for economic gain. The “frontier” or region at the edge of a settled area became the site of extreme violence and death, both of Native people, the American Calvary, and vigilante citizens. The contemporary stereotype of the American Indian as “blood thirsty savage” arose in part from these wars, where for the indigenous peoples it was a matter of either fighting to protect their lands and family or dying in the attempt. This stereotype solidified through dime novels and melodramas which mean to generate fear and power, to the boarding school era

(Adams, 1994; Child, 2000; Jenkins, 2007; Lomawaima, Child and Archuleta, 2000,

Lomawaima and McCarty, 2006).

The boarding school experiment began in the late nineteenth century after the

Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa prisoners who were incarcerated at Fort

Marion in Saint Augustine, Florida, became subject to Lieutenant Henry Pratt’s newly devised “civilization” program (Child, 2000, p. 5). The prisoners spent half the day in a classroom and the other half working jobs around the prison. The federal government began its boarding school program for American Indians as a result of this crusade to assimilate both through education and a military disciplined work environment. During the early boarding school period, students encountered a strict universal course of study, were forced to march in military drills and wear military uniforms, constantly confronted malnourishment and disease, and were physically beaten and cruelly humiliated for such infractions as speaking their native languages and talking about home (Bloom, 2000, p.

3). As the migration of Europeans and Euro-Americans swept across North America, non-Natives claimed Indian lands and forced the removal of tribes to isolated

55 reservations. One of the primary goals of the federal government was to assimilate

American Indians into mainstream society. Carlisle Indian School founder, General

Richard Henry Pratt’s expression “kill the Indian and save the man” became a policy in the late 19 th

and early 20 th

centuries. Strategies based on this notion were used throughout

America to civilize the so-called “savage” (Bloom, 2000, p. xiii, xxi).

The most prominent sites of assimilation were the federal Indian boarding schools, which functioned to isolate youth from their families and communities. Teachers indoctrinated students with notions of individualism, democracy, American ideals of cooperation, time management, and Christianity. All of these principles were communicated through the English language and implemented in a militaristic style of physical training.

It is in this kind of environment that Eastman asked General Pratt, why he had not introduced football in his school. Pratt responded, “Why if I did that, half the press of the country would attack me for developing the original war instincts and savagery of the

Indian! The public would be afraid to come to our games.” Eastman replied, “Major, that is exactly why I want you to do it. We will prove that the Indian is a gentleman and a sportsman” (as quoted in King, 2005, p. xi). During this time, American Indian people had little control over their own lives and were guided by the western notions of the

“savage”. American Indian culture both frightened Euro-Americans and limited westward expansion and evangelistic ideals. Therefore, this conversation exemplifies the immense responsibility of the American Indian athlete in the mainstream spotlight; through both

56 his actions and achievements, he could improve the image and perception of all American

Indian people, both on and off the athletic playing field.

In To Show What an Indian Can Do, Bloom (2000) explores the relationship between sports as a form of popular culture and the politics of assimilation that characterized boarding school life between 1879 and 1960 in an historical overview.

Mainstream sports, like football, were first introduced at government-run institutions as part of the larger effort to erase American Indian culture and history from memory.

Although reluctant at first, Pratt soon embraced the promise of sport at Carlisle. In

1897—after he had listened to Eastman—he stated, “If it was in my power to bring every

Indian into the game of football, to contend as my boys have contended with the different young men of the colleges, I would do it, and feel that I was doing them an act of the greatest Christian kindness, and elevating them from the hell of their home life and reservation degradation into paradise” (King, 2005, p. xi). Athletics were then embraced by boarding schools to not only facilitate assimilation, but also to teach young men and women how to respectfully compete with others.

The primary purpose of these schools was to prepare American Indians for life in a non-Indian society, therefore training in English, vocational trades, and Euro-American lifestyles were emphasized. New habits, including sports, were taught, essentially duplicating programs at non-Indian schools. American Indian students who participated in sports generally excelled athletically, particularly at the Carlisle and Haskell schools

(Bloom, 2000).


In A Special Olympics (2008), Parezo notes that at the turn of the 20 th

century the cult of physical education and participation in team sports were seen as a key marker of psychological maturity. During sports, the human body was on display as much as the human mind and both were measured by early sports scientists as evidence of cultural and social advancement. Physical fitness was seen as an important aspect of improving the moral and mental conditions of Euro-Americans as well as proving that Americans were not only the most progressive people, but also the fittest in the world.

During the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition at which the Olympic Games were held, an important and new division was the Physical Culture Department, headed by James E. Sullivan. A former athlete himself, Sullivan’s objective was to implement programs to make America home to healthy minds and bodies, a goal derived through sport. Historian Mark Dyreson has insightfully noted: “Many Americans came to see sport as a powerful reform instrument that could revitalize the rapidly modernizing nation. Intellectuals espoused ideas that placed sport among the struggles between classes, races, ethnic groups, and genders” (Parezo, 2008, p. 75). Just as seen in

American Indian boarding schools, sport was used in the urban reform efforts as well as education and Americanization of immigrants. Sport was a broad social and cultural mechanism used to meld people into a body politic.

Sports uniquely constituted the cultural politics involved in federal efforts to educate American Indians and acted as a dynamic cultural form. This proved to be successful on several levels according to Bloom:

Now this Hopi man spoke at a meeting, he spoke about the reservation.

When he was ten years old, he could run in an open range for miles and

58 miles, then later on, they sent him to school and it seems like he was just in a closed-in fence or house and a person right there says, ‘Stand up, sit

down, go that way, go this way, go to bed, get up.’ It’s like that. And it ruined his thinking. He doesn’t think any more like an Indian. And he gave up and he thought, ‘well, if I can’t have what I had before, I might as

well not think.’ Because thinking as a white person gets mixed up with an

Indian (2000, p. 21).

Many American Indian youth struggled to exist at these institutions, where the central purpose was to deny them any part of their cultures.

Although students experienced heartache while away from home, the athletic assimilation efforts proved not to be a successful assimilative or acculturative strategy on many levels, since most of the basic plays used today in professional and collegiate football, like the long pass, were developed by Indian students and their Native and non-

Native coaches and were often based on ancestral warfare techniques such as counting coup (Jenkins, 2007). Native students knew this and took pride in essentially indigenizing

American sports and making it their own. They employed creative strategies and what developed as a result were pan-Indian interactions and economic opportunities for Indian men, such as Jim Thorpe, Jon Levi, and Charles “Chief” Bender, to play on professional football and baseball teams. Thus, American Indian peoples have played a fundamental role in American athletics, much of it while they were enrolled in schools (Bloom, 2000).

Institutes like Carlisle in Pennsylvania and Haskell in Lawrence, Kansas, began high profile athletic programs, and produced football teams that competed successfully against the best college teams in the country. Football began as an informal sport in 1890 and formal competition in 1893. The 1895 record of the Carlisle Indians was improved to four wins and four losses, and in 1896 the schedule was upgraded to include Yale,


Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Brown, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Penn State,

Dickinson, and Duquesne Athletic Club. To many, this schedule seemed far-fetched for such a small training school and meant that high school students would play against older and more physically mature college athletes. However, over the next four years, the school’s winning record improved and the unexpected success against the nation’s best football teams led to national attention and heightened the interest and involvement of

Superintendent Pratt (Jenkins, 2007; Oxendine, 1988, p. 187). Pratt began contacting

Indian agents around the country and asked that they be on the lookout for physically gifted American Indian boys. Many authors (Oxendine, 1988; Gems, 2005; Jenkins,

2007; Anderson, 2007) have noted that during the early years of Carlisle football,

American Indians were recruited for their athletic prowess from Haskell Institute and from other boarding schools as far away as the Sherman Indian school in California.

Pratt sought out young American Indian men “swift of foot or qualified for athletics…to help Carlisle compete with the great universities on those lines” (as quoted in Oxendine,

1988, p. 187). For Pratt, the success of athletic teams soon became a key measure of the success of boarding schools.

Football and other athletics not only brought valuable recognition to Carlisle, but, according to Pratt, they also provided helpful travel and social experiences for the student athletes. Moreover, intent on showing the success of his assimilation efforts, Pratt often allowed athletic events and the required travel to supersede school work. Athletes welcomed these trips, a relief from strictly regimented military-style institutional life.

Football players at Carlisle traveled first class, had their own residence hall with a pool

60 table and juke box, enjoyed better food at their own training table, and were able to order suites paid for by the athletic fund. Moreover, athletic director and football coach Glenn

“Pop” Warner rewarded his best players with cash. By 1907, the athletic funds at

Carlisle had generated more than $50,000 in profits, exceeding the $30,000 garnered each year from the summer “outing program”


(Gems, 2005, p. 4-5).

Warner began his long coaching career at Carlisle in 1899 and remained at the school through 1914. Under his leadership, Carlisle attained great success on the field and widespread national attention; it was during his tenure that several players achieved

All-American status, first of them the legendary Jim Thorpe, who achieved this honor in both 1911 and 1912 (Oxendine, 1988, p. 188, 191). From 1900 to 1907, Carlisle never gave up a touchdown to a visiting team. As American Indian traditional games sometime served as surrogate forms of war, relieving cultural stress within and among tribes,

American Indian athletes competing in the white man’s arena soon adapted to the psychology of their own circumstances. Warner believed that American Indian athletes viewed athletic competition as racial confrontations, which provided an infrequent opportunity to express pride in their Indian cultures as well as in an appropriate masculine identity and role playing. Moreover, newspapers portrayed football games as frontier conflicts (Gems, 2005, p. 4-6), in which, this time, the Indians won.

By 1907, the Carlisle Indians had become the country’s most dynamic college team as they pioneered their elegant, high speed invention: the passing game. In 1905


In the early part of the twentieth century, hundreds of American Indian school children participated, or were forced into an apprenticeship program called the “Outing System.” The educational program hoped to promote the assimilation goals of the federal government by placing American Indian children in intimate contact with “civilized” American societies, specifically in white American families.

61 the forward pass was legalized and Carlisle was the first team to throw the ball deeply and regularly downfield. Moreover, under Warner’s creative guidance and the players’ ingenuity, the team developed and mastered an astounding array of trick plays, reverses, end-arounds and flea-flickers. The talent for deception was born partly out of necessity;

Carlisle was perpetually undermanned with a student body of just 1,000, ranging in age from 12-25 (Jenkins, 2007). Yet, the record books do not convey how innovative and influential the Carlisle teams were in the legacy of football, for all too often prejudice affected athletic record keepers. Today, every time a quarterback feigns a handoff or rears back to throw, he owes debt to the Carlisle Indians. Before the emergence of football at Carlisle, the game was dull and brutal, with large men trying to move each other down without finesse. The Carlisle Indians found new ways to win and they transformed the game into the thrilling high-speed chase it is today. Carlisle, with its mixing of running, passes, kicks, and elements of surprise, created and played the game of the future (Jenkins, 2010). While the Indians lacked physical size, Warner developed techniques to exploit their speed and agility: the body block, crouching start, the double pass, as well as trickery plays such as the hunchback. “Nothing delighted them more than to outsmart the palefaces,” Warner observed (as quoted in Jenkins, 2010). The Carlisle team used trickery and humor both on and off the field; for example, the theft of tribal lands was a standing source of jokes and humor, one of the few ways in which Natives had to come to grips with what had happened to their peoples. After a bad call from a referee or a racist remark from the opposing team, they would use irony and say,


“What’s the use of crying about a few inches when the white man has taken the whole country?” (as quoted in Jenkins, 2010).

Boarding school sports not only helped to promote the educational missions of these institutions by displaying American Indians behaving and competing in a way that was considered civilized and contained, but they also clearly showed how students had the capacity to take advantage of contact spaces, whenever they could find them, and utilize these zones to their own advantage and as places of resistance. Here they experienced pride, pleasure, and the creative formation of identity as “winners” rather than humanity’s predestined “losers.”

Perhaps no other game embodied the importance sports symbolized to American

Indians in the boarding school era more than the 1912 match against West Point. On

November 9, 1912, the Army locker room contained nine future generals, including four future World War II generals, as well as future United States President Dwight David

Eisenhower, who was known for punishing football opponents. A win would end all argument and establish Carlisle as the best team in the country, as well as symbolize not only American Indian physical prowess, but intelligence in strategic football, thereby beating the white man at his own game. The last death of the Plains’ Indians Wars occurred when Plenty Horses, a former student at Carlisle, had gunned down Edward

Casey, a former West Point Cadet, in January 1891. Just twenty-one years later, Indians and soldiers were set to square off again, this time “peacefully” on the football field at

West Point. In a game that would later be recognized as “The Real War of the West”,

Jim Thorpe, in his greatest performance as a college player, led Carlisle to a 22-6 victory.


Football at Carlisle reached a level of success and visibility that had never before, or since, been attained by an Indian school. The extraordinary achievements of the team from such a small training school against major universities were not only astonishing from a sports standpoint, but also captured the imagination of a large segment of the

American public (Jenkins, 2010, p. 161-182). The New York Times called the Carlisle

Indians, “one of the most spectacular aggregations of football players, especially in the backfield, ever assembled…the most perfected brand of football ever seen in America”

(Rubinfeld, 2006, p. 168).

Jim Thorpe remains a popular name in sport, not only for his athletic prowess and achievements, but also for the social issues surrounding his life and career. As ‘Athlete of the Century’ his athletic accomplishments are beyond the scope of this dissertation, but as a Sac and Fox Indian, his racial heritage contributed to his legend in at least three significant ways that are relevant to American Indian sport and our emphasis on the connection between education and education: (1) as a source of pride for American

Indians in the success of ‘one of their own’; (2) a source of vindication for white

Americans in the success of their country’s ability to accept, embrace, and assimilate an

‘other’ into ‘one of their own’; and, (3) symbolically, as a source of information about what was changing and not, in twentieth-century racial representations and relationships

(Rubinfeld, 2006, p. 168). One outstanding figure, however, cannot help all students see the relationship between athleticism and education as a way to prepare for life in a changing society. Athleticism must be institutionalized and remain such, not confined to

64 one school at one time. It also must survive changes in educational policy and individual personnel.

During the football program’s 25 years of existence (1893-1917), the Indians compiled a 167-88-13 record, which makes Carlisle the most successful defunct major college football program (Official NCAA Division I Record Book, 2007, p. 399).

Unfortunately, the decline of football at Carlisle was as quick and complete as its success, through no fault of the student athletes. Coach Warner left the school at the end of 1914 to assume the head coaching position at the University of Pittsburgh. Simultaneously, government support for Carlisle steadily declined, and one by one federal boarding institutions for American Indians began to close. Pratt’s “kill the Indian” efforts to educate Indian children were redirected toward the American public school system, and interest in moving Indian students a long way from western reservations to the

Pennsylvania site decreased (Jenkins, 2007, p. 299; Oxendine, 1988, p. 192-193). Carlisle closed in 1918; federal officials concluded that the program was no longer “civilizing”

American Indians in a proper manner, and that the prominence of football and other athletic excesses had diverted attention from the primary purpose of the school. Despite the racial implication of Carlisle, the sports programs, particularly football, not only encouraged American Indians to pursue an education, but also gave them a morale boost and heightened their positive identification as Native.

The introduction of sports as a positive means to education and of the sports arena as a new, more civilized frontier marked a new phase in American Indian education, as well as Indian-white relations; furthermore, they facilitated the integration of American


Indian youth from different tribes at the federal boarding schools. Over the course of the twentieth century, sports fostered ethnic identity and pride among indigenous student athletes. Bloom concludes that boarding school athletic programs “created a context for the celebration of intertribal cooperation and identity, sometimes on a scale rarely ever seen before” (Bloom, 2000, p. 37).

III. American Indian Women and Sports

For Native American women, there is a strong connection between sport, physical activity, and the social, spiritual, and economical aspects of daily life (Griffen, 2001).

The development of bonds of kinship, both familial and tribal, is the central purpose of sport for Native American women. The prominent public leadership role of women in pre-reservation period Indian cultures has often gone unrecognized by the general public.

Native women embodied roles as chiefs, medicine women, peace negotiators, and members of councils. Native women are seen as caretakers of the earth, the home, the family, and future generations. As an Ojibway elder says, “she is the center of the universe and without her there is no continuation of life. She is the heartbeat of our mother, the earth; without her beat there is no life. The woman is the foundation of her nation” (Crow Dog and Erdos, 1991, p.10). American Indian females had a somewhat different experience in sport, however, due to the enculturation needs for their expected societal roles and government policies of proper education. Lomawaima claims that “In order to mold young people’s minds, 19 th

-century educators bent first to mold their bodies according to gender- and race-specific notions of capacities and inclinations”

(1993, p. 228). Boys were provided greater opportunity to participate in sports (athletic

66 contests); the orientation of their physical education was also deeply seated in the gender ideologies of boarding schools (masculinity, competitiveness, male solidarity, and physical prowess). The focus on one gender’s boarding school experience is motivated by the strict sex segregation enforced in the schools which generated different personal lives for boys and girls. The Victorian “cult of domesticity training for girls was a clear surface manifestation of the gender and race-defined fault lines segmenting American society” (Lomawaima, 1993, p. 227). Female physical fitness heavily emphasized and oriented toward an education in a new identity. For girls, physical education through exercise was displayed through passivity, sexual restraint, domestic femininity, indoor activity, and light exercise (Bloom, 2000; Lomawaima, 1993). Between 1880 and 1940,

American Indian girls were discouraged from participating in “competitive athletics” or

“strenuous physical activity” (Staurowsky, 2005, p. 193); to “construct the ideal woman, educators had to teach Indian girls new identities, new skills and practices, new forms of appearance, and new physical mannerisms. Dormitory personnel, matrons and disciplinarians, academic teachers, and trades instructors, all enforced a rigid code of appearance for Chilocco students” (Bloom, 2000, p. 62). Natural athletic ability and behavior were monitored, reshaped, and even eliminated in order to realign feminine behavior with mainstream, non-Native values.

Girls were limited to dance, gymnastics, and calisthenics because these embodied passivity and sexual restraint (Bloom, 2000). Prevailing attitudes regarding women’s frailty, inferiority, and the control of female sexuality were translated into the girls’ physical education curriculum. Boarding schools aimed to negate an American Indian

67 female identity, and create one that was geared towards a western world. The 1911

Annual Report from the Santa Fe Indian School, for example, clearly demonstrated these gender ideologies and domestic roles:

The girls of the school are taught those duties that will be useful to them later as housewives. Sewing, including cutting and fitting garments, yarning and repair work. Laundry work, ironing, general housework, nursing and the general care of the sick, and last but not least, family cooking, which is taught in our domestic science department, and is looked upon by many as our most valuable branch of industry training for girls.

This racialized gender hierarchy directly affected not only American Indian females’ opportunities to participate in sports during the boarding school era, but also the notoriety of American Indian female athletes for the general society. As Jennifer

Hargreaves (2000) writes, “A culture is remembered for its heroes and heroines, and sport constructs them and influences our perceptions of them continuously…But heroes are more easily defined than heroines and there is greater social importance attributed to the production and celebration of male heroism” (p. I). Although there is a vacuum in the sport literature with regard to American Indian female athletes, this does not mean that

American Indian female athletes and teams did not exist. One example is the 1904 girls’ basketball team from the Fort Shaw Indian Boarding School in Montana. Basketball became instantly popular with girls and women since it was one of the few active sports deemed acceptable for the “fairer sex” at a time when “strenuous activity” could be harmful to female health (Peavy and Smith, 2005). The girls’ success on the court, however, soon overshadowed this controversy.


Since its organization in 1902, the team elicited great school and community pride as they beat most of the state’s college and high school teams, and a few boys’ teams as well. Their success became so well known that they were invited to the 1904 Louisiana

Purchase Exposition in St. Louis as students of the “Model Indian School”. The young women from Fort Shaw proved to be worthy ambassadors of their school, their state, and tribes, defeating every team they played and returning home from St. Louis as world champions (Peavy and Smith, 2005; Parezo and Fowler, 2007). Although women’s basketball would not gain notoriety until decades later, the ladies from Fort Shaw overcame barriers of gender, race, and class, while both directly and indirectly disproving stereotypes concerning the athletic, academic, and physical prowess of American Indian females. When considering the popularity of American Indian athletes across reservations today (discussed below), it is important to remember that these athletes stand on the shoulders of their predecessors, and will, in turn, provide the space and foundation for athletes in the future.

Retrospectively, boarding school sports have not only helped to promote the educational missions of government institutions by displaying American Indians behaving and competing in a way that was “civilized,” but they also clearly show how students had the capacity to take advantage of contact zones and spaces whenever they could find them. Unfortunately, while they experienced pride, pleasure, and the creative formation of identity, they also met racism (Bloom, 2000). Beyond the schools’ policy and practice devoted to domestic education and to the total control of American Indian people, the acute, penetrating focus on girls’ attire, conduct, posture, and hairstyles

69 portray a racially defined perception of American Indian people’s physical bodies as

“uncivilized” (Lomawaima, 1993, p. 229).

Additionally, reviews of gender and sport, race relations and sport, as well as the sports media share a common absence of notoriety of women of color in sports, more specifically American Indian. The possibilities that exist for American Indian women in sport and how they too challenge the power relations of dominant culture receive little attention in both scholarship and sports media.

IV. The 1930s and Post-Boarding School Experience

If sports had been an important part of a new American Indian world, it was equally instrumental in transforming and reshaping modern American culture at the turn of the twentieth century. Agency in sport connects the importance of traditional

American sports with both the boarding school era and the contemporary experiences of

American Indian athletes.

Increasingly after 1930, there was a direct correlation between social and economic shifts, political agendas, and educational reform with the disappearance of the

American Indian athletes in popular sports. Compared to both the white and black populations, the isolation experienced by American Indians created a unique situation during the Great Depression. Those who were already living on the margins economically experienced the Depression hardest and very quickly. The stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting depression affected American Indian boarding schools’ financial stability. Under President Hoover, the federal government was initially hesitant to provide funds for those in need. However, under the tenure of President Roosevelt and

70 beginning in 1933, social reform programs directly impacted the education of American

Indian students under the Indian New Deal.


John Collier, the newly appointed

Commissioner of Indian Affairs, began to dissolve the totalizing assimilation approach to education and focus instead on preserving American Indian cultures by asserting

American Indian rights to cultural determination. Collier was particularly concerned with transforming the boarding school system to ensure that students had successful futures, whether back home or in the larger society (Connell-Szasz, 1999, p. 64-66).

Congress increased the boarding school budget in the 1930s which allowed for expansion of academic and social programs. For example, by 1931, the Albuquerque

Indian School had its own Native crafts department that instructed students in Navajo blanket making, Pueblo weaving and pottery, and employed only Native teachers

(Connell-Szasz, 1994, p. 44). The increase in possible student activities extended to athletics. Penny dances and formal athletic banquets provided fundraising opportunities for the men’s athletics teams and “formal” female physical education classes began to develop for girls in the 1930s. Female students participated in a wide variety of athletic activities, including basketball, hiking, softball (called girls baseball), and speedball (Pow

Wow, Annual of the Albuquerque Indian School, 1932). Both the Albuquerque and Santa

Fe Indian schools began training students for future service in physical education and recreation for both boys and girls. Albuquerque also started a Girls’ Athletic Association


The “Indian” New Deal, headed by Commissioner of Indian Affairs John C. Collier, stopped the previous administrations’ assimilation and land allotment policies. Through several important pieces of legislation, particularly the Indian Reorganization Act/ Wheeler Howard Act of 1934, and through administrative and regulatory changes in Indian Services (now called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or the BIA), tribes were acknowledged as semi-sovereign political entities and assumed a greater role in deciding their political, economic, and cultural affairs (Getches et al., 2006).

71 in 1931, “to promote athletics, to create a love of sports and to foster the ideal of good sportsmanship” (Pow Wow, 1932). Intramural sports became a regular and popular activity on Saturday afternoons for both male and female students.

Despite the change in governmental policy and the erosion of the old assimilationist ideology, athletics in the 1930s continued to teach American Indian students how to be and play like working class Americans. Coaches and teachers continued to use athletics to instill American values, and students responded favorably with a desire to represent their schools using sportsmanship and striving for excellence.

Just as at the turn of the twentieth century, the 1930s policies and activities fostered cultural exchange among athletes. American Indian athletes developed personal relationships with other athletes, sometimes from different tribes and cultural backgrounds. During the 1930s, a sense of Indian identity emerged that had some origins in athletics. Like other marginalized, isolated, or ethnic groups at this time, American

Indian students found athletics as a way to construct or maintain an Indian identity while, at the same time, further their American identity. Athletics became increasingly about assertion of identity through school pride and unity.

The 1930 American Indian boarding school sports movement was short lived.

Philip Deloria (2004) adds that after 1940, the shifts within federal policy and the associated public perception of American Indians were factors in the decline of American

Indian athletic programs. In particular, Deloria underscores the role of World War II and the termination and relocation policies that attempted to abrogate treaty rights and the responsibilities of the federal government toward American Indian tribes. In addition, the

72 emergence of the Civil Rights movements in 1960 eclipsed the “Indian problem” and its significance for most Americans (Deloria, 2004, p. 131).

As the federal funding for boarding schools declined, American Indian athletes were left with nowhere to hone their skills and gain the attention of professional scouts.

Six events and phenomena contributed to the diminishing presence of American Indian athletes: (1) the closing of Carlisle; (2) the scarcity of other Indian institutions of higher education with team sports due to budget cuts; (3) the poor quality of reservation and local K-12 schools and lack of athletic programs at these institutions; (4) resistance on the part of many Indians to forced (or passive encouragement) to assimilation into non-Indian society and subsequent rejection to participate in American sports; (5) passage of laws that prevented Indians from entering all-white colleges; and, (6) social conditions and prejudices both on and off the reservation and in sports itself (Oxendine, 1988, p. 259-

270). For example, the abolishment of the junior college program at Haskell in 1932 resulted in less attention and visibility for sports.

Despite the cutback of collegiate competition, Haskell continued a tradition of athletic excellence on a high school level. For example, the 1944 football team went undefeated and boxing emerged as a prominent sport, resulting in many champions in amateur competition. Among these was Chester Ellis, who won the National

Championship in the Golden Gloves competition in 1939. Similarly Billy Mills led the

1956 cross-country team to a state high school championship. Mills later went on to establish a national record for freshmen at the University of Kansas.


American Indian athletes emerged in the professional sports arena as well. The

Oorang Indians of La Rue, Ohio, were a traveling team, who competed in the National

Football League (NFL) in 1922 and 1923. With Jim Thorpe serving as star player and coach, the franchise was a novelty team put together by Walther Lingo (non-Native) to market his Oorang dog kennels. Lingo believed that American Indians were quintessentially masterful hunters and trackers, and he “considered [them] to be mythic people,” believing there was a “supernatural bond between Indians and animals”

(Springwood, 2005, p. 126). To accomplish their charge to publicize the Airedale pedigree, Thorpe and the rest of the Oorang Indians were confronted with unique and outrageous constraints. First, they were expected to play nearly all games on the road in order to advertise Airedales. Second, during halftime and frequently before games, the players were required to dress in Indian regalia and emerged on the field to stage particular versions of Native dances and war chants, as well as showcase the Airedales through animal stunts (Springwood, 2005). In two seasons the Oorang Indians won only two games, and by 1924 the franchise ceased to exist.

American Indian athletes also emerged into the professional baseball arena. In

1897 Louis Francis Sockalexis, a Penabscot from Maine became the first fully recognized

American Indian to play professional baseball; he would later become inducted into the

National Baseball Hall of Fame for his prowess on the pitching mound. Despite his successes, cartoons featured Sockalexis in the sports page as the “Big Man Not Afraid of

His Job,” dressed in a feathered headdress with a baseball bat for a war club, leading his

“tribe” as they defeated their competition (Barr, 2005, p. 26). The urban solitude proved

74 too difficult for Sockalexis who turned to alcohol for comfort. After three short seasons in the Major Leagues, Louis Sockalexis’s professional baseball career ended and he spent the remainder of his life in obscurity. Sockalexis’s experience offers a tragic testimony of the difficulties faced by American Indian who tried, and failed, to successfully integrate into urban America in the twentieth century.

Despite Sockalexis’s short-lived professional career, he paved the way for future

American Indian professional baseball players in the early to mid-twentieth century.

George Howard “Chief” Johnson, a member of the Ho Chunk (or Winnebago) of

Nebraska, was pitching for the Kansas City Federal League team in 1914, when Art

Wilson hit a home run off of him, the first home run in Wrigley Field. Howard, however, was far from a trivial figure in his fourteen-year career in professional baseball, three of which were spent playing in the Major League. He pitched nine Major League shutouts, two minor league no-hitters, and had a career winning percentage in the Major League

(Powers-Beck, 2005, p. 79). Similar to Sockalexis, he was both admired and scorned through his Indianness and was nicknamed “Chief.” Starting with Sockalexis in 1897, many Native players in professional baseball were dubbed “Chief.” In addition to “Chief”

Charles Albert Bender and “Chief” John Meyers, there were “Chief” Mose YellowHorse,

“Chief” Louis LeRoy, “Chief” Ike Kahdot, “Chief” Euel Moore, “Chief” Ben Tincup,

“Chief” Emmett Bowles, “Chief” Jim Bluejacket, and “Superchief” Allie Reynolds, among others. Oxendine, a Lumbee who was also called “Chief” during his time playing minor league baseball, explains, “It is really used by non-Indians to say, ‘Hey, you’re an

Indian. Therefore, that’s how I can define you and keep you in your place’” (Powers-


Beck, 2005, p. 81). While the stereotypical connotation employed the naiveté and racism of the time, American Indian athletes integrated their own agency through the use of trickery. Charles “Chief” Bender, a Chippewa who attended Carlisle before attaining Hall of Fame status as a Major League pitcher, upheld his American Indian identity by signing autographs with his proper name. During the many times “when hostile fans greeted him with imitation war cries before games Bender simply moved nearer to the seats and addressed them as ‘foreigners,’ reminding them of their latecomer status” (Gems, 2005, p. 8). Sports thus provided a means to attack the center of American racism and colonial ideology.

During this time, the American Indian emerged as a key symbol in the development of a white, masculine, character-building movement. Once the potential for vigorous and savage resistance by the American Indian was erased (through the implementation of boarding school system), America began to embrace and desire

“Indianness.” For example, the “readings” of Indianness in the literature of the Boy

Scouts of America encouraged boys to adopt various elements of American Indian life to develop discipline, courage, healthy bodies, and an intimate knowledge of nature. The goal “was to teach white children Indian ways, but what constituted ‘Indian ways’ were a set of highly idealized stereotypes of Indians as scouts, hunters, craftspeople,” and inevitably, mascots (Springfield, 2005, p. 130). Similar to boarding school athletes,

American Indian professional athletes enacted a sort of double consciousness in the midtwentieth century; although this was often empowering, it was not always a comfortable process. There was no lack of talented individuals; rather, there was a lack of access,

76 opportunity, and support for gifted people to develop their athletic skills. The twentieth century American Indian professional athlete not only had to act as an athletic “creature” but also as an American “commodity.”

To understand why the number of American Indian athletes diminished as the twentieth century progressed, Deloria points out:

When considering Indian athletes, it is easy to slide into the heroic mode focusing on Jim Thorpe and perhaps a few other outstanding individuals—Chief Bender, Hopi Olympic medalist Louis Tewanima, or

William Lone Star Dietz, who head- coached football teams at Purdue and

Louisiana Tech as well as the NFL Boston Redskins. But more obscure gridirons and dugouts all across America were also peppered with Indian athletes [during the early 20 th

century] (as quoted in Staurowsky, 2006, p.


Compared with the white and black population, the isolation in sport experienced by

American Indians after the 1930s was in many respects unique. American Indians competing in national-level sports after 1930 did so in the “open market,” that is, without being surrounded by other American Indians in similar competition (Oxendine, 1988, p.

271). They did not play as members of Indian teams, but as minority members of non-

Indian college or professional teams, or they competed in individual sports, such as running and wrestling, in non-Indian climates. The traditional support system they experienced at home and at institutions like Carlisle no longer existed.

The white population was dominant in all amateur and professional sports until very recent years, and the African American athlete often had a support system, such as the Negro baseball leagues that continued into the 1950s. The emergence of African

American athletes in baseball, basketball, and football was so significant post 1950, that there was a sizeable aid network wherever needed. Currently, African American

77 collegiate and professional athletes can count on social support systems such as the Black

Sports Agents Association, that “develop and strengthen the involvement, credibility, representation, image and cohesiveness of African Americans in the sports industry”


). Although African American athletes too faced racial treatment and backlash with their emergence into the mid-twentieth century sporting world, they did not have to confront this wrath alone. The American Indians’ entrance into college and professional sports, however, was an individual, lonely effort, without the accompaniment of other American Indian athletes, and often without even the presence of other American Indians at the institution.

Although Deloria suggests that dugouts were “peppered” with American Indian athletes during the mid-twentieth century, the plight to play collegiate sports became noteworthy in 1979, with the first article published about the American Indian athletic

“dropout phenomenon.” In his piece “Running to Nowhere,” Gabriel (1979) cites numerous cases of Laguna Pueblo youth who excelled in races before and during high school. He mentions the case of Andy Martinez, who in the early 1970s ran the mile in an impressive 4 minutes and 17 seconds as a freshman. Andy gave every indication that he would emerge as one of the country’s best distance runners. However, after high school, instead of attending college, he took a job in a local uranium mine and never ran again.

Gabriel suggests that Andy’s case—a young athlete beginning with great promise then dropping out—is cited as typical of young men in the community (Oxendine, 1988).

Unfortunately, Oxendine (1988) goes on to suggest that the dropout phenomenon for

American Indian athletes has not only been observed by outsiders, but by American


Indian youth themselves. Upon Oxendine’s visit to the Haskell campus in 1984 (which was then still a two year American Indian institution), he spoke with numerous male and female athletes who conceded that their athletic careers would end after two years at

Haskell. Despite the athletes’ well established records, Oxendine’s analysis of their plans for future participation revealed that those athletes who were reared on or near a reservation were most likely to drop out of sports and return to the reservation. In fact, none of the athletes who had grown up on a reservation planned to go on to a four-year college. Several non-reservation American Indian athletes expressed negative comments about their reservation peers, such as “they are afraid they’re not good enough” and they

“shy away from competition” (Oxendine, 1988, p. 266).

Oxendine’s findings suggest that American Indian athletes face grave emotional challenges in their journey to and navigation through college. This is not a new phenomenon. Deloria calls for contemporary research on American Indian athletes who, although they may not excel in the professional arena or compete in large numbers at the collegiate level, still very much contribute to the importance of access to higher education and acting as role models for future generations.

V. From Boarding School to Contemporary Education

The educational shifts regarding American Indian people reflect federal government policies over time. Although progress was made under Collier’s “Indian New

Deal,” World War II quickly wiped out most of the gains in Indian education, as funding was shifted from domestic programs to the war effort. At the end of World War II, there was a renewed call to “set the America Indian free,” which meant cutting the budgets for


Indian programs, terminating the rights of American Indian people, and reorganizing them into mainstream society (Reyhner and Eder, 2004, p. 232). The “final solution”

Congress came up with for the “Indian problem” was to let the Indians become “free by terminating their reservations” (Reyhner and Eder, 2004, p. 235). Progress in Indian education was reversed through congressional efforts and the disruptions of World War

II; there were more students out of school in 1946 than in 1928 (Szasz, 1977). The typical reservation school of the termination era, whether Bureau, mission, or public operated,

“almost appears colonial, or at the least cast-like: between Indian community and schools there is a strong social barrier, typified by the fences which surround the [school] compound” (as quoted in Reyhner and Eder, 2004 p. 232).

In 1952 it was estimated that there were 127,957 Indian children between the ages of six and eighteen; almost 37,000 were attending BIA schools, a little over half were still attending boarding schools and the rest were in 233 day schools in fifteen states, including Alaska. There were also 52,000 Indian students attending public schools.

Almost 10,000 students were attending mission schools, and 21,435 were not in school.

By 1965, 20 percent of the children in BIA schools were dropouts of failures from other schools (Fischbacher, 1967). As more and more students attended public schools, BIA institutions increasingly served the most isolated children. Under the 1961 Kennedy administration, the BIA increased classroom square footage, added libraries, and developed a standard list of supplies and equipment for large regional schools rather than small community schools. Then, beginning in 1964, under President Johnson’s socioeconomic reforms of the Great Society, the federal government provided funds to

80 help economically disadvantaged people develop programs to improve their quality of life. American Indians became recipients of federal funds and programs, especially the

Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), and began focusing on educational reform within their communities.

With the rise of Indian activism in the 1960s and 1970s and an increasing demand for American Indian educational reforms, the 1960s were a particularly changing time in

Indian education history. The passage of the 1972 Indian Education Act and the 1975

Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistant Act called for American Indian people to take control of their own lives and destiny. Tribal people desired selfdetermination because the BIA had controlled the direction of formalized schooling for

American Indian children for more than a century. Under self-determination, tribes began to take control of the education of their children. One way doing this was through the creation of Indian-run schools and colleges.

In 1990 there was a revived effort in Indian education that matched the interest of the 1960s and 1970s. Evidence of this revival included passage of the Native American

Language Act of 1990 and the White House Conference on Indian Education held in

1992. In the 1990s, about 40,000 American Indian students (10 percent of total) attended some 170 BIA funded schools, about 10,000 (3 percent) attended private schools, and over 300,000 (87 percent) attended public schools (Reyhner, 1994). Today, American

Indian children are served by several different types of educational institutions:

There are BIA boarding and day schools, now increasingly under local control but still tied up with myriad government regulations; tribally controlled schools operated under contracts and grants from the Bureau of

Indian Affairs; and mission schools operated by various churches. Public

81 schools serve the largest number of Native students and tend to look like public schools anywhere, even when they are located on Indian reservations (Reyhner, 1994, p.17).

VI. Youth Sports among American Indian Populations

Over the past three decades, rates of childhood obesity have tripled in this country. Nearly one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese.

Although the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles and control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and may improve a student’s academic achievement level, physical education has become nearly non-existent in American schools–eliminated due to budget cuts and a philosophy that focuses exclusively on

“essentials” (2010; 2011). Although schools can promote physical activity through recess, classroom-based exercise, intramural athletic clubs, interscholastic sports, and physical education, American institutions are decreasing the amount of physical education in order to increase time for drilling students for standardized testing required by the federal government in an effort to increase proficiency in math, science, and reading. Only six states – Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Illinois, and

Iowa – adhere to standards from the National Association of Sports and Physical

Education according to which schoolchildren should participate in 150 minutes a week of physical activity. Only three states – Delaware, Virginia, and Nebraska – have 20 minutes of mandatory elementary-school recess daily (Rochman, 2011). With this mentality, it is no wonder that students are overweight and that No Child Left Behind is failing.


A recent study conducted by the CDC concluded that physical activity is either positively related to academic performance (50.5% of the associations summarized) or that there is not a demonstrated relationship between physical activity and academic performance (48% of the associations summarized). Furthermore, increasing time during the school day for physical activity does not appear to take away from academic performance. Therefore, “school boards, school administrators, and principals can feel confident that maintaining or increasing time dedicated to physical activity during the school day will not have a negative impact on academic performance, and it may positively impact students’ academic performance” (2010, p. 28) as well as their health conditions.

If the situation is bad for America as a whole, it is even worse for Native communities. For the American Indian population, childhood obesity is seen in disproportionately high rates; American Indian children are twice as likely to be overweight than the general population (CDC, 2010). Education figures also show a disproportionate problem: scholars have noted that American Indian students lead all ethnic minorities in school dropout rates, suicide rates, and incidence of low self-esteem

(Gray, 1998; Griffen, Morgan, Ojeda, and Watson, 2000; Rehyner, 1992; Sullivan, 2004;

Sutliff, 1996). One reason for these alarming social and behavioral statistics is not only the reluctance of American Indians to accept and assimilate into dominant white culture, but also the unwillingness of teachers and administrators to understand and value the

American Indian students’ unique cultural tenets the classrooms and other settings. It is little wonder that many young people leave school. There is a disjunction between the

83 value of physical fitness and health seen in American Indian cultures and the lack of it in the American education system where sport and physical education have become extracurricular rather than part of the core subjects to be taught.

Physical education research on American Indian cultures and sporting practices is often incorporated within general multicultural studies, so it is difficult to tease out the information specific to individual cultures or even regions (Sullivan, 2004). This is important because American Indians are NOT a monolithic, homogeneous group but a culturally diverse group of societies. For example, Sutliff (1996) notes an increase in diversity within American schools during the mid to late twentieth century and the subsequent “need for multicultural education within our physical education classroom”

(p. 5). Like Sutliff, Butt and Pahnos (1995) offer designs and suggestions for culturallysensitive physical education that incorporates prejudice reduction, culturally responsive pedagogy, multicultural awareness, and the development of multicultural teaching strategies. Informed scholarship about the uniqueness of cultures, especially with regard to sporting traditions and experiences, is an essential tool for teachers working in

American Indian communities. Unfortunately, few evaluative studies of existing programs or culturally specific pedagogical looks have been created to date, and with the introduction of No Child Left Behind multicultural pedagogical initiatives began to take a back-seat in public and on-reservation school systems.

Nevertheless, there are school- and community-based physical education programs that have emerged within the last ten years. For example, the Boys and Girls

Club of the Navajo Nation has programs designed to emphasize character and leadership

84 development, education and career enhancement, health and life skills, the arts, and sports, fitness, recreation and Navajo culture. Similarly, the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Youth

Program aims to provide physical, emotional, and mental support, grounded in the tribal culture, to help their young community members grow into healthy adults. Inter Tribal

Sports provides structured athletic programs to at-risk Native youth living on or near

Indian reservations throughout Southern California (

). The Notah

Begay III (NB3) Foundation was created in 2005 by Navajo/Pueblo professional golfer,

Notah Begay in order to reduce the incidences of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes and promote the leadership development of Native American youth through evidencebased sports, health and wellness programs. NB3 implemented soccer and golf programs with goals to build capacity within tribal communities to support health and youth leadership. Both golf and soccer have grown in popularity within Native communities and the “NB3 Foundation is in a unique position to provide access and opportunities for

Native American youth to fulfill their potential through the sport and industry of golf”


). NB3 highlights both the alarming educational and health trends facing American Indian youth. This program, therefore, not only promotes physical fitness, but also encourages academic success through the allocation of scholarships. These programs and foundations exemplify that American Indian people are expressing the need for physical activity-based programs as a pathway to physical and mental health.

Allison (1979, 1980, 1982) exams the nature of American Indian culture within sports settings. Similarly to scholars who focus on boarding school settings (Bloom,


2000; Child, 1993; Hyer, 1990; Littlefield, 1989; Lomawaima, 1993; Lomawaima and

McCarty, 2006), Allison concludes that instead of being a vehicle for assimilation into mainstream society, American Indians have adopted “American” sport to fit and compliment their own unique cultural practices. For example, sports like basketball, volleyball, and baseball, which reflect common mainstream values of individuality, opponent-focused competition, the desire to win at all costs, and aggression, carry different meaning for American Indian communities: group solidarity, personal competition, and community building. Part of this process of value making can be done through incorporating the native language and talking about the sport in the languages of the people.

In “Tribal Languages in Physical Education, and the Games of Life: Integrating

Multicultural Games in Physical Education,” Ninham (2002) provides a four step method to incorporate multicultural lessons through: 1) stating a cultural theme, 2) emphasizing keywords and reinforcing them, 3) describing origins and including traditional rules and play patterns in activities, 4) discussing equipment and field dimensions, 5) modifying the activity as needed for modern play, and 6) reinforcing thought processes and how the activity relates to cultural diversity, especially to the cultures of the players. Through physical education, American Indian youth can not only partake in physical activity, but also reinforce the importance of cultural tradition. For example, the Grand Ronde Canoe

Family in Seattle promotes health and well-being for youth and families through the use of traditional canoe. Ishtaboli, also known as the game of “stickball,” is the Choctaw national sport. For participants and many of the spectators, the game is far more than just

86 a sporting event, representing a cultural tradition that has a great deal of historical and spiritual significance. Since 2010, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has sponsored its own stickball team. The team members also do stickball demonstrations and exhibitions.

In 1995, the National Standards of Physical Education, developed by the National

Association of Sports and Physical Education, provided educators with guidance, benchmarks, and sample assessments for physical education. The document also included several multicultural foci educators could pursue. However, in 1998, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) felt that the “National Standards” did not adequately represent

American Indian people because they did not feel that actual adaptations of the national standards would be helpful for American Indian communities. Consequently, they issued an American Indian Supplement to the National Standards on Physical Education to instill pride, stimulate American Indian youth to pursue a variety of physical activities, as well as “foster the growth of the “whole” person” (p. 1). For example, the “Medicine

Wheel”, a traditional symbol used by many Plains tribes, teaches that every human being is made up of four distinct parts—spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental. A “whole” person is one who achieves balance among these four parts. Therefore, educators can help individual students achieve this balance by devising a curriculum that addresses the

“whole” person. While physical education activities are certainly important for addressing the physical growth of each student, they can also strengthen their mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. Cultural-based activities such as stickball, lacrosse, and shinny highlight American Indian traditional games, while American Indian teachings and academic sporting themes such as famous athletes and the infamous mascot issue

87 foster self-efficacy through sport. The authors suggest that students learn about the traditional component of sports and the history of American Indian athletes, because

“One way to promote the development of more collegiate and professional American

Indian athletes is to hold up, as athletes, those individuals who are noted for their outstanding achievements” (p. 11). By acquiring a more comprehensive, cultural-based understanding of physical education activities, the hope is that American Indian students will participate in physical activity and take pride in doing so.

VII. American Indian High School Athletes

Whether American Indian students attend Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded schools (183 elementary, secondary, residential and peripheral dormitories institutions across 23 states; 126 tribally controlled and 57 are operated under the BIE), private schools, or schools off the reservation, sports are implemented into curricula, yet the extent and type varies greatly, just like it does in public schools across the nation.

Despite whether physical education is prominent within school settings, interscholastic sports are popular within American Indian communities. While some rural communities, like the Hopi in northeastern Arizona, have limited resources, their running tradition is strong within their school system and supported across their reservation in all communities. The boys’ cross-country team at Hopi High School, located in Keams

Canyon, has won 23 consecutive state championships. In 1990, just three years after the team was created, it won its first state meet and in 2006, it broke the national record of most consecutive state championships won by a boys’ cross-country team.


Not only have the young men been successful, the Hopi High School girls’ crosscountry team too won its sixth straight state championship in 2012, with twenty overall.

Christen Ben and Claryn “Mighty Mouse” Josytewa, who were part of the 2012 Hopi

High School Lady Bruins cross country state championship team, recently qualified for the Wings of America team, earning a trip to St. Louis, Missouri. Wings of America is an all-Native American team with runners younger than 20 years old. The team encourages the appreciation of life through running. Team members get a chance to run in front of college scouts who may offer them scholarships. “Running at this level shows their dedication to the sport,” The Hopi High girls’ cross country coach Lomakema has said.

“I’m not there every day to tell them what to do. It’s neat that they get to represent the school, the community and their families” (Bindell, 2013, This experience offers the young women a great opportunity, not only for the chance to obtain scholarships, but also to see how college runners compete. It also provides them with experience in the world away from the safety of the Hopi reservation, to spread their wings, and see that they can survive and successfully negotiate a larger world.

The secret to the Hopi’s success lies in their cultural values and traditions. In the recent news story “Unbeatable Runners” on Arizona 12, a member of the boys’ team proclaimed, “We do it for our people, our tradition, our culture” (2012). Running has its roots in the creation of the universe. Elders tell young people to run early in the morning.

The benefits of running include not only physical health, but also spiritual and mental well-being, thus helping individuals and the society to endure (Unbeatable Runners,

2012). The running success at Hopi High School is not a lone occurrence. American


Indian running programs are common in high schools, particularly in the southwest, where running is tied to showing respect for one’s culture. Tuba City High School’s

(located on the Navajo reservation and bordering the Hopi reservation in northeastern

Arizona) boys and girls cross-country have won a combined 30 team and 14 individual state titles in the past 40 years (

Over the past decade, stories about American Indian high school runners have been told through media. The documentary Racing the Rez, which highlights Navajo and

Hopi runners who competed for Tuba City High School, is scheduled to be released in

2013. “In the rugged canyon lands of Northern Arizona, tradition and sport unite two boys cross country teams on the Navajo and Hopi reservations as they battle to be state champs. To succeed they must conquer both the rigors of training and the personal obstacles they face. Win or lose, what these boys learn in the course of their season will have a dramatic effect on the rest of their lives” (ICTMN Staff, December 31, 2011).

Racing the Rez by Brian Truglio, who first traveled to the Navajo and Hopi reservations as part of a college assistance teaching program, is about the history of running in Navajo and Hopi cultures and the impact running tradition continues to have today.

Run to the East, on the other hand, is a documentary released in 2010 about Navajo high school runners that ask the question, “Can you change your future without losing sight of your past?” The main premise of the documentary is to journey with three standout

Navajo high school runners and their pursuit to run in college. The summation of the documentary is as follows:

News headlines all over the West reinforce negative stereotypes of Native

Americans. They live in communities associated with drug use,

90 alcoholism, and random acts of violence. In these societies defined by loss, a lack of infrastructure, substandard education, and addiction have led to despair. But that isn’t the entire story. A pocket of hope lies in the sport of running. Endurance running has long been a key spiritual element of Native American cultures—one through which individuals can demonstrate strength and resilience. Its importance has declined as modern problems have emerged, but many still preach its benefits. Through endurance running the next generation can learn mental toughness, the value of proper nutrition, and the gratification that comes from winning.

Can these high school seniors use running to beat the odds and earn a scholarship to a prestigious college? (


The film proposes that even with the struggles of extreme poverty, alcoholism, and daily life on the reservation, these students are able to compete against and beat athletes from the wealthiest schools in the nation. “Running is such a strong part of the

Navajo culture. It teaches you endurance, it teaches you to be strong hearted and ironwilled” (; yet, the challenges of earning and keeping a collegiate athletic scholarship are a struggle for American Indian students. For these students, running taught them how to deal with struggle and pain and to aspire to earn a college degree, not only for themselves, but also for their families and communities. Although

Chantel “Tails” Hunt, Thomas Martinez, and Dillon Shije all earn collegiate scholarships through their talent of running, once at school they all face challenges that force them to return home. Some might conclude that this is failure, but to the three runners, they see it as part of their life journey. They are trailblazers for future generations and continue to run for culture, health, and education. In the film, Tim Host, coach of Navajo Pine High

School in northwestern New Mexico, proclaims “Every kid that has come through the reservation and succeeds has run through an awful lot of people that have told them that they’re not gonna be nothing” (


The film also highlights the important work of Wings of America, an American

Indian youth development program that provides ample opportunity for the continuation of running after high school. Organizations such as WINGS of America (WOA) and

Running Strong for American Indian Youth are enhancing the life of American Indian youth by looking at the past in order to empower and ensure a bright future. Wings of

America’s mission is:

To enhance the quality of life for American Indian youth. In partnership with Native communities, Wings uses running as a catalyst to empower

American Indian and Alaskan Native youth to take pride in themselves and their cultural identity, leading to increased self-esteem, health and wellness, leadership and hope, balance and harmony



A 2000 WOA survey showed that participants in WOA had a 99 percent high school graduation rate, with 94 percent of participants going on to college. Results also demonstrated that WOA participants attain higher levels of education, have lower incidences of arrests, partake in less alcohol and drug use, have children at a later age when they are better able to support them, and are more physically active, maintaining healthier lives than their same aged peers in both the American Indian and general population (

Running Strong for American Indian Youth is another program that aims to improve self-esteem and help ensure a good future for American Indian youth. While their mission is to help American Indian peoples meet their survival needs, they strive to build the capacity of communities, grassroots Indian organizations, families, and individuals to leverage their strengths and solve problems. Billy Mills, the Oglala Lakota runner who won the 1964 Olympic Gold Medal in the 10,000 meter race, is the national

92 spokesperson for Running Strong. Mills travels throughout the country speaking to

American Indian children and their families. His goal is to inspire youth and encourage dignity, character, and pride through their American Indian heritages and running

(Running Strong for American Indian Youth, 2009).

Running is not the only sport that highlights the talent of American Indian athletes. Basketball is not only popular in both rural and urban American Indian communities; it has become a part of many cultures. Communities are recognizing the importance of promoting and encouraging American Indian youth to become physically active as a way to overcome obesity, diabetes, and chronic diseases that are triggered by inactivity. A recent story in Indian Country Today recognizes, “Basketball has become a necessary and relevant piece of Native culture. Granted, it’s a new piece of our culture, but it is there-like most pieces of our culture-[it] is dedicated to our children’s survival.

Until we find out what those needs are to reinvigorate Indian children’s sense of purpose, basketball will have to do” (Ross, 2012). Basketball fosters pride and motivation for youth and as communities saw how support helped their students win, basketball began to elicit a sense of cultural poise within tribal people.

Basketball has always been popular on the Navajo reservation, but it was not until the 1987 Shiprock High School Lady Chieftain’s success that high school basketball spread across the reservation. The 2001 documentary Rocks with Wings showcases the

1987-88 Lady Chieftain’s season and how basketball united the community and created grate pride in the Navajo Nation. The film establishes early on the sense of limited possibilities that pervaded this New Mexico reservation town in the early 1980s. This was

93 the environment that a black man named Jerry Richardson walked into in 1980. A star basketball and track athlete from the slowly desegregating South of the 1970s,

Richardson became an even starker minority on the Navajo reservation. He took the reins of the losing Lady Chieftains in 1982 because, he says in the film, nobody else wanted the job. A painful and dramatic truth-telling session is the centerpiece for this film that also includes exciting footage of both the 1987 and 1988 state final showdowns between

Shiprock and crosstown rival Kirtland Central. The first was a narrow loss by the Lady

Chieftains; the second, a narrow, sweet victory for them. The documentary contains more than sport, weaving the team’s progress into a tapestry of Navajo arts, culture, and values.

When Richardson took over, the team high school dropout rate was fifty percent.

Students’ attitude reflected what went on outside the high school gym: unemployment in Shiprock was forty-nine percent and drugs and alcohol abuse were found in the community. The team’s record began to change along with the attitudes as soon as they started to win. From 1987 to 2012, the team netted seven New Mexico state championships. Now, the Lady Chieftain games sell out regularly. At one point in the documentary, an elder Navajo man states “I have never seen the people of Shiprock relate to each other so humanly,” terming basketball as a point of unity and celebration. The community had a common focus, one that not only promoted physical health, but also the self-efficacy of youth. The Lady Chiefs continue to provide examples of successful community interaction through basketball, which has now become a generational family tradition. “Basketball is just part of the Navajo culture…parents and grandparent played”

(Stephens, 2013).


Basketball is not only a sell-out sport on the Navajo reservation, but widespread across reservations. Native teams have played a prominent and exciting role in Montana high school basketball for over a hundred years, all the way back in time to the famed

Fort Shaw Indian girls’ team of 1904. Today, the annual two day Native American

Classic in Havre, Montana, continues this long tradition. The 2011 tournament was played in the Armory Gymnasium on the campus of Montana State University-Northern; the 2,000-seat arena was packed with avid fans both days, especially during the evening sessions. The classic, one of several basketball events across the Big Sky Country, attracted eight predominately Native high school teams from three northern Montana

Indian reservations, as well as a Canadian Reserve in Alberta. In years past, each of these schools had won at least one state championship in either the boys’ or girls’ basketball division. Browning leads the competition with five titles (boys in 1980, 2001, 2002 and

2008) and girls (1996). Box Elder follows with wins in (1990 boys and 1998 girls); Hays-

Lodgepole (2002 and 2007 boys) and Heart Butte (2000 and 2001 boys). All have captured two state championships, while Harlem and Rocky Boy have had one each— both boys, in 2002 and 2010 respectively (Stiffarm, 2011).

Not only are American Indian teams being recognized around the country, individual standout athletes are being acknowledged as well. Tisha Phillips of the Nez

Perce tribe in Idaho was recently named the 2012 Gatorade Idaho Girls Basketball Player of the Year, a title that honors the state’s top player, recognizing not only athletic achievement but also academic excellence and character. During her two years at

Lewiston High School, after transferring from Lapwai, she has maintained a B average, is

95 active in her church, and has worked with youngsters as an elementary guest speaker and basketball coach. This is but one of several honors she received this spring. She was also named to the 2012 5A Girls All-Idaho basketball team and was named the MVP of the

Inland Empire League. Shoni Schimmel, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Band in northeastern Oregon, was also an outstanding high school basketball player who now plays for the University of Louisville. The 2011 documentary Off the Rez tells Shoni’s story from growing up on the Umatilla reservation to starring on the basketball court. It did not take long for the former Oregon high school basketball player to become a star at the collegiate level. She was named First Team Freshman All-American in her first year playing for Louisville and led her team to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Her sister Jude joined the Louisville team in 2012, and in 2013 Louisville made it to the

Division I NCAA Championship game. Shoni believes basketball afforded her the opportunity to attend college and Off the Rez highlights her story in order to motivate others:

There’s so many Native Americans that coulda-shoulda-woulda but didn’t do anything. It’s almost sickening how much talent [is on the reservation].

I am very proud of who I am and where I come from, but I wanted to be one of the ones who made it. My job is to play basketball, and I love doing it. I’m going to do my best to prove to other Native Americans that they can do it. They can leave home and be okay (Off the Rez, 2011).

These talented players are just a few of the hundreds gifted American Indian athletes who excel in running, basketball, baseball, softball, lacrosse, wrestling, and many other sports in high school. By visiting the Native American Basketball Tournaments’ website (, one will find hundreds of Native American basketball tournaments around the country. The website is a service for Native Americans; it wants

96 to facilitate networking with Native American tournament organizers, coaches, and teams in order to give Native people more opportunities to participate in both reservation and urban basketball tournaments. The Native American Basketball Invitational Foundation

(NABI) is a national organization committed to “supporting Native American youth by implementing programs that encourage higher education, sports, health and wellness and community building” (


Since 2002, NABI has hosted annual Native American basketball, baseball, and softball tournaments, as well as a 5K run and pow wow in Phoenix, Arizona, to “create, encourage and support Native American youth now and through their journey as they discover who they are, what they want to be and how they can impact future generations”

( NABI hosts a college fair during the basketball tournament and also provides college scholarship opportunities for Native American high school athletes. Through tournaments, NABI deters Native youth from substance abuse, gangs, and suicide by providing a safe environment to compete and enjoy the benefits sport provides. NABI offers an opportunity for student athletes to showcase their skills and dedication to their sport. This gives players a chance to be recruited to play at the collegiate level. NABI also showcases Ambassadors, a group of athletes that serve as successful role models for Native youth. The Ambassadors include New York Nicks star

Amare Stoudemire, basketball star Richard Dionne (Ft. Peck Assiniboine and Sioux), and world slam dunk champion Kenny Dobbs (Oklahoma Choctaw).

The Nike N7 shoe was introduced in 2007 to not only promote the importance of physical activity, but also to encourage American Indian youth to discover who they are,

97 what they want to become, and how they can impact future generations. Through running and sport, Nike contends that the ultimate goal of the shoe, as well as the contemporary benefits of running, is to consider that everyone leaves a footprint, and through activity, competition, and play, American Indian peoples can unleash the power of their generation and help their youth recognize their proud histories in order to build a positive future. In doing this, Nike is not just advertising; the company is putting some of the proceeds back into community sports. The Nike N7 Fund provides product donations and grants to Native American and Aboriginal communities to support sports and physical activity programs for youth. Their goal is to help unleash a child’s potential through the power of sport ( There are currently over forty communities or organizations that N7 has partnered with in order to inspire youth to participate in sports. For example, N7 has connected with The Magic of Youth to Excel run by the Samson Cree Nation, whose mission is to keep children fit and to teach them healthy eating combined with fun fitness that allows them to maintain their energy for something positive. To encourage youth to excel in all sports, the program focused on teaching them how to combat diabetes and other health related problems before they are affected ( N7 has also combined efforts with NABI to encourage Native youth to reach life goals through sport.

Sport is not just a pastime on reservations, it has become a means to promote culture, maintain health, and access education. It has the potential “to raise a generation of leaders by creating the spark that ignites Native American youth to set their sights higher, make the most of their potential and reach their dreams”


( Many Native high school athletes aspire to play a collegiate sport; their dream is to leave the reservation and succeed in collegiate athletics. Despite the popularity and talent across reservations and cities, there are disheartening low numbers of American Indian collegiate athletes. In chapter three I will discuss the experiences of some contemporary American Indian collegiate athletes and the disproportionality between American Indian high school and collegiate athletes.

However, before I transition, I must discuss the negative side of contemporary sport: the racism and prejudicial ethnic stereotypes that are pervasive in American culture and that

American Indian people and athletes must face on a daily basis.

VIII. Racism and Stereotypes in the American Sports Culture

The difficulties American Indians face when attempting to join collegiate sports reflects some of the larger social issues they encounter on reservations due to stereotypes.

Stereotypes can be defined as “rigid clusters of isolated and simplified social/cultural characteristics conjoined into a single imagined identity, that is then used to label a social group and assess their [its] character” (Parezo, 2000, p. 42). Demeaning stereotypes, even non-intentional instances, are the result of cultural blindness, colonization, and the quest of those in power to eliminate competition over resources, the media’s quest for negative and sensation stories, pop-psychology that holds that cultural differences are genetic, and social confinement. American Indian people and their cultures have been victimized by

United States popular culture through movies, government seals, advertisements, and symbols for products like butter and beer. This brings to light the multifaceted and deeprooted issue of American Indian mascots in sport. Today, the American Indian mascot

99 issue has experienced great controversy both for and against changing the mascot logos at the university and professional sports levels.

In European and Euro-American thought, American Indian peoples have been conceptualized and understood in ways that contradicted their own perspective of who they are and what their pasts mean. Historically, American Indians were doubly obscured in the Euro-American eye as either the “blood-thirsty savage” or the “noble savage”

(Davis-Delano, 2009, p. 118). It is the stereotype of the blood-thirsty savage that led non-

Natives to choose American Indian mascots for sport. Stereotypical traits associated with this image are an almost uncontrollable fighting spirit, aggressiveness, determination, stoicism, and fierceness, thus linking these traits with a sports team by association and magic. The appeal of American Indian mascots is illustrated in the following quote: “I look at that mascot, that Indian head, and it stirs me up. I think of getting real aggressive, and it brings out the aggressiveness in me. And it makes me go out there and really wrestle hard and fight hard, you know, because that’s what those Indians were” (Davis,

1993, p. 15). Interestingly, proponents of Indian mascots erroneously think they are honoring Indians: “I can think of no greater attribute to the American Indian than to name a team’s warrior after courageous, cunning and feared warriors of the Indian nation, the braves” (Davis-Delano, 2009, p. 119). Mascotting of American Indian culture as an essentialized, generic, homogeneous entity further perpetuates white hegemony, reducing

American Indian people to appropriated commodities. American Indian athletes are directly affected by this racial hegemony and continue to be labeled as a “Chief” or

“savage” rather than an athlete. While sports can be an equalizing arena, as was seen in

100 the boarding school era, contemporary American Indian athletes carry a heavy burden as a result of stereotyping and the widespread use of mascots. They not only have to prove themselves as athletes, but also have to disprove the racialized stereotypes targeting

American Indian people.

The use of American Indian mascots in intercollegiate and professional sport has had a long history, celebrated by many American sports fans and opposed by American

Indian people. These racial and stereotypical abuses contribute to negative psychological effects, especially for American Indians youth, by creating low self-esteem, shame and little desire to pursue education or sport in a world that views them as a commodity

(Fryberg 2008). The abuse reduced American Indian people to a limited set of cultural features that were justified through the closing of the frontier and subjugation of Native

America. Thus, we must take American Indian mascots outside the sports arena and place them within the daily social and psychological lives of American Indian identity, agency, and sovereignty to understand how these images affect contemporary Native athletes.

With American Indian mascots among the top ten mascots for U.S. high schools, it is estimated that nearly 90 colleges and approximately 1200 high schools in the U.S. continue to utilize American Indian stereotypes as their mascots (Chaney, Burke and

Burkley, 2011, p. 43). There are a few exceptions, where schools have obtained tribal consent to use their name and/or symbolism. For example, the Seminole Tribe of Florida officially sanctioned Florida State University’s use of the Seminoles as a nickname and

Chief Osceola as a mascot. Max Osceola, the chief and general council president of the

Seminole Tribe of Florida, said that it was an “honor” to be associated with Florida State


University (Wieberg, 2005). Dissent, however, continues to be voiced within the

Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, as a general council member proclaims, “I am deeply appalled, incredulously disappointed…I am nauseated that the NCAA is allowing this

‘minstrel show’ to carry on this form of racism in the 21 st

century” (Wieberg, 2005).

The continued use of American Indian imagery in athletics exemplifies the everpresent anti-Indianism in the United States. Anti-Indianism as expressed in speech and visuals uses “historical events and experiences to place blame on Indians for unfortunate and dissatisfying history…exploits and distorts Indian beliefs and cultures” (Cook-Lynn,

2000, p. 83). Since the infusion of American Indian mascots in the National Collegiate

Athletic Association (NCAA), the umbrella organization of collegiate sport, opponents of

Indian mascots have been fighting for a ban of the racist imagery. Yet, it was not until

2000 that the NCAA initiated a “partial ban on the use of American Indian imagery, names and symbols, in its postseason tournaments because it judged them ‘hostile and abusive’ to indigenous people” (King, 2013, p. 194). The NCAA cautioned that teams would be prohibited from post-season play if they did not retire their mascot. Florida

State University, University of Illinois, the University of North Dakota, and the

University of Utah, along with fifteen others, were initially targeted with the new policy.

While many applauded the new rule, others felt it had been long overdue; others thought it was wrong and eliminated free choice. This included some Native Americanrun schools who found they could not use their chosen symbols, like Chiefs, Braves or

Warriors. While this policy still remains intact, there are loopholes that universities use to exert this proliferation of anti-Indianism. For example, a recent injunction was granted to

102 the University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux), which prevents the NCAA from applying its prohibitions on hostile imagery. Despite the injunction, in June 2012, the

North Dakota state Board of Higher Education voted to discontinue the Universities moniker and Indian head logo. Despite this small victory, the ruling of the injunction reminds us that the NCAA, policymakers and proponents of American Indian mascots have embraced an expression of racism that continues to dehumanize American Indians.

Along with the press that has perpetuated this imagery for over a hundred years, is it surprising that we do not see more American Indian athletes earning college scholarships, or highlighted for their sports accomplishments, but rather stereotypes infused through cultural blindness by another culture? With American Indian athletes only accounting for six-tenths of a percent of the scholarship athletes at the major college level, one wonders whether the media will take notice of the hundreds of standout

American Indian collegiate athletes if they do not dress up in headdresses or play into the racial stereotype to market themselves (Staurowsky, 2006, p. 205-206). With these stereotypes limiting the portrayal of the American Indian athlete, it is not surprising that university coaches are hesitant to recruit American Indian people to be a part of their sports program. Who wants the hassle! Added to that, many unthinkingly believe or assume the stereotypes of the “drunken Indian.” Again, who wants the extra work of making sure athletes from assumed dysfunctional societies succeed? As it will be seen in the interviews that follow, these stereotypes have affected all Native athletes.

It is small wonder that this situation exists because contemporary narratives about

American Indian athletes continue to perpetuate racial and ethnic stereotypes. For

103 example, in his book A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain

Apaches, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar observes a player he names Orlanda: “Sometimes I would glance his way and imagine him sitting astride a painted pony two hundred years earlier, ready to ride off into the mountains and hunt” (Abdul-Jabbar, Singular, 2000, p.

41). He goes on to state that if it were not for basketball, these young “warriors” would be in Mexico “stealing cars” (Abdul-Jabbar, Singular, 2000, p. 66). We not only see the

American public augment these stereotypes of the Western imagination rather than reality, but also American sports hero’s fostering the notion that American Indian people are “stuck in the past.” This further limits equal access to sport for American Indian youth.

As a result of these inflicted stereotypes, college coaches (largely non-Native) often view talent from reservations as a risky investment, assuming that American Indian teenagers cannot resist alcohol or adjust to life outside the reservation and will, therefore, ignore their scholarship guidelines and return home. This coincides with the “noble savage” stereotype that American Indians are primitive, silent, and childlike (Davis-

Delano, 2009, p. 119) and, I would add, with the “wild Indian” stereotype of Indians as incapable of learning, as rather instinctual, like animals, incapable of enculturation, unable to handle their anger and turn it into determined aggression on the playing field.

Moreover, I believe that college coaches are fearful of recruiting American Indian athletes. This is an unspoken alarm that stems not only from negative stereotypes, but also from the anxiety of stepping into a world that is unfamiliar to them. Coaches fail to recognize themselves with American Indian athletes because they too, might have to

104 become educated about life on the reservation. For college coaches, it is much easier to recruit a kid from the “ghetto” than take a chance with a kid from the “reservation.” This creates an even larger gap in the college pipeline and places all the responsibility to seek out a college and athletic program on the athlete, thus leaving little responsibility to the university to create a healthy transition program for its American Indian athletes. This is similar to the unspoken requirement that Indians must learn English and be bilingual;

Euro-Americans, on the other hand, do not have to learn Indian languages to communicate. The burden is always on the Indian student athlete to assimilate. Laura

Merrit, who has three American Indians on her women’s basketball team at Huron

University in South Dakota, states that “Unfortunately, for the bigger schools, they see it as too much work…they think, O.K., this Native American kid may be really good, but how much trouble is he or she going to give me? They don’t feel comfortable with the culture. They feel more comfortable with an inner-city player than one off the reservation” (as quoted in Roberts, 2001, p. 1).

Equality and justice in society depend on our ability to empathize with those who are different from us. The racial and stereotypical representation of American Indians in

American sports unjustly concedes the commodification of Native culture. If we listen carefully to American Indian people, communities, and organizations that call for the elimination of Native American mascots and imagery, it would become clear that there are valid reasons why American sports associations should work to eliminate these problematic images from society. The problem still exists, as represented through the contemporary heated and controversial discussion surrounding the NFL Washington


Redskins. Until we overcome the “mascot” barriers, American Indian athletes will not fully receive the notoriety and recognition they deserve.

American Indian people have a long and important history with sports. From the traditional significance in culture, to the ability to foster identity and agency through sport in boarding schools, contemporary American Indian high school athletes are using both the strength of their community and their own talent to both participate and succeed in sport. The substantial popularity and aptitude across reservation communities is important to consider when examining contemporary collegiate athletes. Chapter 3 will continue with a literary overview of the importance of American sports and will conclude with the demographic population of American Indian collegiate athletes.




When I was younger I used to sit with my Dad and watch sports, sports center, ESPN and one day they were talking about scholarships to play basketball and all kinds of sports.

They had a special on it and I watched it and saw that you could get your college education paid for if you get one of these athletic scholarships so I said to my Dad ‘I’m

going to get one of those, watch.’ –RaeAnne West (Navajo)

Sports are a foundation of American culture. America has long been an athletic nation; the competitive nature of sports reflects a core value of American culture and society: if people work hard, they will be rewarded. Sport brings people together and is flexible, offering various levels of participation. Sports can be watched on the television, played in the backyard, and sought out in both a competitive and friendly nature.

America is saturated with sports at every level. This chapter will present an overview of the history and importance of sports in America. I will discuss youth sports, interscholastic (high school) sports, and provide a summary of the National Collegiate

Athletic Associate (NCAA) athlete, including the history of collegiate sports, studentathlete identity, gender equality, and minority representation. I will end the chapter focusing on American Indian demographics. These include: American Indian identity,

American Indians in higher education, and the contemporary American Indian collegiate athlete.


I. Youth Sports and Development in America

“Sport contributes to development” is a popular saying and belief in America today. The pervasiveness of sports in our lives inspires us to “be like Mike,” and to “Just

Do It.” Sport icons infuse our televisions and wardrobes and motivate us to both root for our team and play like our heroes. A comprehensive survey in 2000 by American Sports

Data found that 26.2 million young people age 6 to 17 played on at least one organized sports team. That figure represents 54 percent of the 48.5 million children within that age range in the United States. Another 10 million play team sports, but only in casual pickup situations, not as part as an organized team. Boys’ participation totaled 14.7 million, and girls 11.3 million (American Sports Data, Inc., 2000). A similar study conducted five years later showed that among a slightly older age group of 10 to 17-year-olds, sports participation had jumped to 59 percent (American Sports Data, Inc., 2005). Youth sports programs have become infused through small rural towns to big cities not only for the act of “playing” a sport, but also to aid in the positive physical and psychological developmental process of youth.

Sport-for-development programs have been extensively researched by scholars in policy, health, family studies, psychology, education, and human/child/adolescent development (Cronin, 2011). Research in the various fields of sociology, sport psychology, and adolescent development supports the claim that extracurricular activities, which include sport, music, arts, and participation in service organizations, facilitate youth and adolescent development. Extracurricular activities, defined as

108 activities performed by students that fall outside the realm of normal curriculum, offer positive experiences and opportunities to learn viable life skills (Fredricks and Eccles,

2006; Eccles and Barber, 1999; Hansen, Larson, and Dworkin, 2003; Larson and Verma,

1999). Developmental benefits are consistent across gender and race (Eccles and Barber,

1999; Fredericks and Eccles, 2006) and may be due to their voluntary nature (Larson and

Verma, 1999).

Youth sports programs have increasingly become a hot topic in the research world. Research on youth development is important not only for program development and implementation, but more importantly to determine the health and well-being of children. While a number of studies have found many positive outcomes stemming from sports participation, others demonstrate that sports programs are linked to negative development effects, such as injury (Mishori, 2012), and unsportsmanlike conduct

(Fullinwinder, 2006). More specifically, these studies report two major outcomes associated with sports participation: (1) personal character development; and (2) the fostering of social capital that leads to future occupational success and civic engagement.

Social capital, in this instance, is defined as educational achievement, future income, and occupational attainment (Phillips and Schafer, 1971; Otto & Alwin, 1997).

If an individual is at least adequate in his/her manual skills, he/she can have a positive influence on personal development because can accomplish the following: (a) create motor and sport-specific skills convertible into physical capital; (b) improve health, fitness, and create an overall sense of physical well-being; (c) increase self-confidence, self-esteem, and positive body image; and (d) build character in the form of discipline,

109 teamwork, and individual and joint responsibility (Coalter, 2007; Coakley, 2011).

Moreover, sports participation can lead to personal success and civic engagement because it (a) creates physical capital that can be used to acquire social and cultural capital; (b) inspires educational achievement; (c) facilitates the formation of social networks; and, (d) fosters aspirations that transcend sport (Coakley, 2002, 2011; Coalter, 2007). Physical capital is when an athlete uses his/her physical talents in sport to obtain athletic scholarships to earn a higher education, sport endorsements and salary, and future employment.

The inconsistency in findings may be due to the complexity and variety of each sport situation and experience (Coalter, 2007). All scholars agree that sport participation can affect the development of important life skills. These are “those internal personal assets, characteristics and skills such as goal setting, emotional control, self-esteem, and hard work ethic that can be facilitated or developed in sport and are transferred for use in non-sport settings” (Gould and Carson, 2008, p. 60). Overall, research suggests that life skill development through sport participation is possible, given the proper environment

(Danish, Peptitas, and Hale, 1993). In essence, life skills are taught not caught, so mere participation in sports does not guarantee life skill development.

The collective claims of sports evangelists focus heavily on the ideology of

personal development and success, and discount the need for progressive development at a collective or community level (Darnell, 2010; Hayhurst, Wilson, and Frisby, 2010).

Here, the link between sport and development is grounded in the dual assumption that sport, unlike other activities, has a fundamentally positive and pure essence that

110 transcends time and place, instilling positive change. Other studies indicate that extracurricular activities (including sport) offer numerous opportunities for individuals to develop physical, emotional, and psychological skills that can have a positive effect on future life decisions and outcomes (Fredericks and Eccles, 2006).

A. Youth Sports and Education

The relationship between sport participation, educational achievement, social capital formation, and personal success has primarily been the focus of personal testimonials, or narratives, rather than systematic social research (Coakley, 2011).

Coakley contends that tracking and measuring the correlation between sport and changes in social capital over time is methodologically difficult. Also challenging is separating the more general developmental changes and social forces that are unrelated to sport in young people’s lives. A future problem for generalizing is sample bias; nearly all research on sport participation and educational achievement has been conducted in the

United States, where nearly all sport participation are associated with schools, attendance patterns, eligibility to play school sports, formal team selection processes, grades, and the social status among peers and teachers (Coakley, 2011). It is, therefore, not surprising to find a positive and statistically significant correlation with sports participation and academic achievement in these school-based settings. These findings tell us more about the organizations of schools than the outcome of development itself and sport’s role.

However, the research on the relationship between sport experience and subsequent life performance indicates that participating in sport as a youth can have a significant effect on academic achievement, future income, and occupational attainment


(Phillips and Schafer, 1971; Otto and Alwin, 1977). Otto and Alwin (1977) found that

“participation in athletics has a significant effect on occupational attainment statistically controlling [for] socioeconomic origins, mental ability, academic performance and participation in athletics” (p. 110). Quantitative data also revealed that athletic participation had a positive correlation with income fifteen years after high school graduation, and that sports foster interpersonal skills that are transferrable to other domains, such as academics and employment (Otto and Alwin, 1977). More recent studies have also uncovered positive correlations of sports participation with cognitive skill (Felfe, Lechner, and Steinmayr, 2011) and academic achievement (Kwak et al.,

2009; Massicotte, Bouser, and Bauman, 2010; Pfeifer and CorneliBen, 2010; Rees and

Sabia, 2010; Roberts, Freed, and Williams, 2010). Felfe, Lechner, and Lechner (2011) found that active sport club participation leads to improvements in children’s cognitive

(school grades) and non-cognitive (reduction of emotional problems) skills. Moreover,

Pfeifer and CorneliBen (2010) argue that the overall positive impact of sport is revealed by allocation of time decisions and higher educational productivity of athletes. The time spent on sport does not necessarily reduce the time allocated to schooling, but can decrease unproductive and destructive leisure activities, which could harm educational efficiency. The positive attributes of sports (motivation, discipline, leadership, responsibility) which cannot be taught in the classroom, can lead to reduced truancy, an increase in the willingness to succeed in school, and encourage social interaction with other students. In turn, a higher efficiency of learning is probable, because time is used

112 more productively (Pfiefer and CorneliBen, 2010). Sport seems to help with focused, goal-oriented time management.

Numerous scholars have analyzed the impact of high school and college athletic participation on education and labor market success (Anderson, 1998; Barron, Ewing, and Wadell, 2000; Eide and Ronan, 2001; Lipscomb, 2007; Long and Caudill, 1991;

Robst and Keil, 2000). Overall, the studies point to the positive impact of sports activities. For example, Anderson (1998) reports that male as well as female athletes spend significantly more hours per week on homework and less watching television than non-athletes. Although these studies provide evidence that sports participation is positively associated with improved academic performance, such findings are not conclusive.

B. Negative Effects of Sport on Youth Development

While many studies posit the positive attributes of youth sports participation, numerous researchers highlight its negative aspects: burnout due to obsessive encouragement by parents and coaches (Cary, 2004; Ewing and Seefeldt, 1990; Waldron,

2000; Weinberg and Gould, 1995); educational disassociation (Howell, Miracle, and

Reese, 1984; Maloney and McCormick, 1993; McPherson, 1980); problems transitioning out of sport (Allison and Meyer, 1988; Broom, 1982; Grove, Lavalle, and Gordan, 1997;

Ogilvie and Howe, 1986; Taylor and Ogilvie, 2001); unsportsmanlike conduct

(Fullinwinder, 2006); and high aggression and violent behavior (Kreager, 2007; Pappas,

McKenry, and Catlett, 2004; Trulson, 1986). Unfortunately, since the American sports

113 world often focuses on winning, rather than youth empowerment and growth, many of these negative characteristics are overlooked by parents and coaches.

The most alarming studies indicate physical harm: increased injury incidence and concussions due to inordinate demands on young bodies, particularly in high contact sports, such as football (CDC, 2011; Moser et al., 2007; Mishori, 2012; Powell, 2001).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recently put forth a fact sheet, “Heads Up:

Concussion in Youth Sport” (2011), which highlights the high prevalence of youth concussions and the actions that parents, coaches, and organizations can take to decrease these occurrences. For youth athletes, studies are uncovering alarming numbers. Mishor

(2012) estimates that between 2001 and 2009 more than 2.6 million children in the U.S. were treated for sports-related injuries. More than 170,000 suffered from traumatic brain injuries. These alarming numbers have caught the attention of football leagues around the country, which are aiming at making sport safer for younger participants. Still, the numbers of contestants continue to augment every season, simultaneously increasing the potential for injury. These numbers should catch the attention of all sports, not only contact sports. Sports participation accounts for numerous injuries: broken bones, pulled ligaments, torn rotator cuffs, and general wear and tear on the body.

Despite these varying views, youth development research continues to examine sport as an aspect in either the helpful or harmful development of a child. Scholars theorize that youth or adolescent development is contingent not on a sport alone, but on the sport experience as a whole. For example, although opponents of the sport evangelist approach do not disregard the notion that sport has the possibility to provide individuals

with developmental lessons, yet “only when these lessons are internalized by enough people will the positive qualities, decisions, and choices of individuals benefit the communities in which they live” (Coakley, 2011, p. 309). Table 3.1 provides a list of contributing factors that affect sport and youth development.

Table 3.1: Factors Relating to Sport and Youth Development.

Youth Developmental Factors Authors

Type of Sport Played

Orientations and actions of peers, parents, coaches, and program administration

Adler & Adler, 1998; Coakley, 1983; Cote &

Fraser-Thomas, 2007; Crissey & Honea, 2006;

McCormack & Chalip, 1988

Fredricks & Eccles, 2004; Horn, 2008; Kay &

Spaaij, 2011; Kremer-Sadlik & Kim, 2007; Laurer,

Gould, Roman, & Price, 2010; Schinke et al., 2010;

Smoll & Smith, 2002; Trulson, 1986

Norms and culture associated with particular sports or sports experiences

Hartmann & Massoglia, 2007; Hellison, 2003;

Rutten et al., 2007; Swanson, 2009; Trulson, 1986

Socially significant characteristics of sport participations

Coakley, 2002; Hoffman, 2006; Miller, Sabo,

Farrell, Barnes, & Melnick, 1998; Miller et al.,


Material and cultural contexts under which participation occurs

Coakley, 2002; Fry & Gano-Overway, 2010; Guest

& Schneider, 2003; Hoffman, 2006; Light, 2010;

Martinek & Hellison, 1997; Schinke et al., 2010

Social relationships formed in connections with sport participations

Fry & Gano-Overway, 2010; Miller, Melnick,

Barnes, Farrell, & Sabo, 2005; Petitpas, Cornelius,

& Van Raalte, 2008, Theberge, 2000

Meanings given to sport and personal sport experiences

Manner in which sport and sport experiences are

Fine, 1987; Guest & Schneider, 2003; Wacquant,

1992, 2004

Fine, 1987; Perks, 2007; Shehu & Moruisi, 2010;

Vermeulen & Verweel, 2009


115 integrated into a person’s life

Changing definitions and interpretations of sport experiences that occur during the life course

Anderson, 2000, 2005; Mahiri & Van Rheenen,

2010; Shehu & Moruisi, 2010

Coaches implement nonviolence: respect for self and others, importance of fitness and self-control, sense of responsibility for self and others

Anshel, 2003; Blanchard et al., 2009; Brustad,

Babkes, & Smith, 2001; Gould et al., 2007; Gould, et al., 2008; Trulson, 1986

Table 3.1 was compiled using the most frequently discussed topics and themes by principal scholars in the field of youth development. Although discussion surrounding all of these factors would be a separate paper in itself, it is important to point out a few that are relevant to this dissertation. Coaching, connection to community and the importance of teamwork and teammates will be discussed in chapter 6.

C. Sport in “At-Risk” Communities

Today, hundreds of youth sports programs throughout the United States intervene in the lives of youth and adolescents perceived to be in need. Most of these young people face challenges created by poverty, dislocation, racism, and a variety of medical, psychological, economical, and social problems (Coakley, 2011). Programs that target participants in low-income and poverty areas provide activities that young people can participate in after school, during weekends, and over school breaks under adult supervision in safe environments. Various funding agencies at the local, state and national level support youth intervention programs. For example, during the 1980s and


1990s American sports programs became increasingly depended on “soft money” from public and private sectors with conservative orientations. These programs directed their alignments using the argument that youth sports would reduce character deficits among young people coming from low-income, economically inferior, and predominantly ethnic minority families. “Midnight Basketball” programs were funded to take “Black innercity males off the streets by keeping them in the gym during…the hours when they would be most likely to get into trouble” (Bessone, 1991, p. 21). Similar youth programs were implemented to give young people an opportunity to do something besides hang out on the street and get into trouble (Coakley, 2002). According to those proposing the programs, sport would simultaneously control and facilitate discipline among

“disadvantaged” and “at-risk” youth who lacked the social and internal attributes to succeed in mainstream society (Hartmann, 2001; Hartmann and Depro, 2006; Pitter and

Andrews, 1997). Sports programs were a way to stop delinquent, anti-social behavior.

Table 3.2 identifies variables that are specific to “at risk” communities when considering youth development.


Table 3.2: At-Risk Youth and Sport Development







Physically safe African American

Personally valued

African American

Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Morally supported

African American,


Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Economically supported

African American

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Personally empowered

African American

Politically empowered

Hopeful about the future


“bonding” vs.



African American

African American

African American,

Hispanic, American


Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Hellison, 2003; Hellison &

Walsh, 2002; Martinek &

Hellison, 1997; Walsh, 2008

Beaudoin, 2011; Palmer &

Thompson, 2007; Putnam, 2000;

Putman & Goss, 2002;

Vermeulen & Verweel, 2009;

Harvey, Levesque, & Donnelly,


Scholars who have studied programs in “at-risk” communities identified these variables.

It should be noted that when authors use the term “at-risk” in sport studies, they are referring to “ethnicity/race,” notably, African American and Hispanic. American Indians are generally left out of the equation.


Sports evangelists believe that organized sport program participation can help “atrisk” youth in the following ways. It can: (a) structure youth’s lives around mainstream values and goals; (b) remove individuals from the streets and place them in adultcontrolled environments; (c) teach self-control, obedience to authority, and conformity to rules; and, (d) provide positive adult role models (Coakley, 2011). The implications of the assumption that “sport develops character” are significant. It influences parental, peer and personal decisions about sports participation and entices social and economic support for athletes and teams at the local and national level. At the same time, this school of thought evokes racial undertones; certain races (minorities) need more character development in order to elicit self-control, obedience, and role-model behavior. Coakley

(2007) cautions us to think critically, because “most importantly, it is woven into popular narrative, reproduced in uncritical forms, and used by well-meaning people and organizations from wealthy nations to justify the creation of sport programs for populations that lack participation opportunities and face challenges cause by poverty, war, natural disasters, or oppression” (p. 307). Although research on the developmental influences of sport participation of young people classified as “at-risk” supports the general investigation findings of sport and youth, it is more likely to identify specific contextual factors related to positive outcomes.

D. Bonding vs. Bridging

Research on adult populations indicates that social capital in relation to sport is commonly characterized by intragroup “bonding” rather than intergroup “bridging”. This raises questions about the types of relationships and social and community development

119 occurring in youth sport programs (Putman, 2000; Putnam & Goss, 2002). In this case,

“bonding” refers to “bring[ing] together and facilitate[ing] relationships among people who share similar socioeconomic status and racial and ethnic identification,” while

“bridging” refers to “connecting people across structural and identity categories”

(Coakley, 2011, p. 35). When bonding does occur, the formation of homogenous groups has been noted to limit personal success and restrict civic engagement (Harvey, Leveque, and Donnelly, 2007). The authors claim that while bonding is not necessarily a negative experience, it may be characterized by exclusiveness, rather than inclusive forms of bridging. I urge us to think critically about programs that are implemented for “at-risk” youth. The lack of emphasis on certain “races” and “ethnic” groups in the literature articulates the “grouping” together of all “minorities” as one homogenous entity. This negates the local context of history, culture, and efficacy.

The minimal presence of American Indians in sport research primarily focuses on

Native American sport mascot issues and highlights the ignorant and stereotypical mindset that still exists in the United States today. This type of “bonding” is common and strengthened when linked with socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and social definitions of race, such as those shared on American Indian reservation communities. For example, using a culturally reflexive version of community-based participatory research, scholars found that youth sports served as a site at which Canadian Aboriginal family members developed social capital as they worked with each other and pooled resources so their children could play sports. This fostered positive community action, not only through the

120 act of sport, but also in the preparation of sporting events (Blodgett et al., 2010; Schinke,

2007; Schinke et al., 2010).

While this exclusive type of bonding may strengthen American Indian communities, it may also limit inclusive forms of bridging among young people (Kelly,

2011). This possibility begs further research and may be directly related to the access to collegiate sports for American Indian people. Where a student-athlete becomes so

“bonded” to his or her community (home), when time comes to “bridge” into another community (higher education), the pipeline may seem non-existent and the path too difficult for the student. It is central to create community connection for students and it is equally imperative to build space for educational opportunities outside of home community.

Multiple assessments of youth sport programs (Coakley, 2002; Hartmann, 2001,

2003, 2008) as well as the initial and only Youth Sports National Report Card (2005), found that positive development in most sport programs was not defined in terms of a need for social justice, rebuilding strong community-based social institutions, reestablishing the resource base of the communities or empowering young people to be effective agents of social change in their communities. Development was, however, defined as providing socialization experiences that would maintain and extend opportunities available for “privileged youth” or compensate for what was missing in the lives of “at-risk” and “disadvantaged youth” (Coakley, 2002; Hartmann, 2001, 2003,

2008). The Youth Sports National Report Card was released in 2005 by the Citizen through Sport Alliance, a national coalition of sport organizations that includes the four

121 major professional leagues in the United States (baseball, basketball, football, soccer), the

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the International Olympic

Committee (IOC) (Woods, 2011). The common goal was to identify gaps and stimulate dialogue on ways to improve youth sports, enabling more young people to benefit from all that youth sports has to offer. The report card reflected harsh criticisms of youth sports, as seen in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3: Youth Sports National Report Card (2005)

Category Grade (A to F)

Child-centered philosophy


Health and safety





Parental Behavior



Source: 2005 Youth Sports National Report Card.

The ratings were given by youth sport experts focused on community-based sport for children aged 6-14. Specifically, the report expresses that youth sport has lost its focus on the child, fails to recruit and train quality coaches, and fails to listen to the voice of the child. The aspects that should be fundamental in sport youth development programs (fostering self-efficacy, self-esteem and community involvement) are unfortunately organized around a self-control/deficit reduction model and ignorant conservative ideals implemented by program coordinators. These assumptions are usually grounded in a self-control/deficit-reduction model of development (Coakley, 2002;

Coalter, 2010) where disorganized, “at-risk” environments produce young people who

122 lack the middle class attributes that lead to “positive” development. Here, the socialization experience that is linked to team sports participation will increase the possibility of such development. The self-control/deficit-reduction model emphasizes individualism as a central value to overcome barriers, make choices, and improve one’s life.

When sports policy analyst Coalter (2007, 2010) studied sport-for-development organizations, he noted that most current programs use sport as a hook on which to hang socializing experiences that promote forms of personal development. Thus, he concluded that sport provides a necessary but never a sufficient singular force for producing desired developmental outcomes. Therefore, sport development objectives need to include not only the implementation of sport knowledge and skills, but also activities that teach strategies for effectively dealing with challenges faced in daily life. A successful sports program empowers young people to be effective agents of social change in their communities. Unfortunately, Coalter (2010) concludes that, “there is no consistent and predictable ‘sport-for-development’ in terms of personal development” (p. x), and people working in these organizations generally have an “uncritical and one-dimensional view of

‘sport,’ believing that it has inherent properties that inevitably produce positive outcomes in the form of ‘development’” (p. 17). Researchers need to study more about the local context where sport programs exist. By assessing the local circumstances and needs, sports programs can better support the self-efficacy of youth.

Gambone, Yu, Lewis-Charp, Sipe, and Lacoe (2006) believe that one of the most important indicators of youth development is “youths’ ability to increasingly recognize

123 their potential for making contributions to the public sphere” (p. 236). Thus, by focusing less on individual attributes alone and more on individual-community awareness and connections, youth development can foster leadership, the desire to act as a role model, as well as to acknowledge and enhance community involvement. Moreover, in their study

Christens and Dolan (2010) provide evidence that youth development programs were more effective if implementation focused on the connection between individual development, community development, and social change. This finding underscores that

“sports and sport participation can [and should] be organized and combined with other activities for the purpose of empowering young people to make choices about changeoriented civic engagement based on a critical awareness of the factors that negatively affect their lives” (Coakley, 2011, p. 318). Youth are then able to link their actions through sport to their actions within their communities; a positive attitude, good sportsmanship, and being a good team member will become attributes they elicit in their community lives in the future.

Jennings, Parra-Medina, Messias, and McLoughlin (2006) identify key factors in youth programs that lead to overall youth development. These include: “(1) a welcoming, safe environment, (2) meaningful participation and engagement, (3) equitable powersharing between youth and adults, (4) engagement in critical reflection on the interpersonal and sociopolitical processes, (5) participation in sociopolitical processes to affect change, and (6) integrated individual- and community-level empowerment” (p. 41).

While sports participation should be the prevailing element in youth sport programs, participation in sports exposes youth to cooperation with others on a team, which may

124 also make them better team players in other life situations. Victory in competition may raise children’s self-esteem, while defeat, despite eventual negative effects on children’s confidence, may teach them how to deal with such a situation.

II. Sports and Education

A. Interscholastic (High School) Athletics

While youth sports program and participation continue to rise in the United

States, despite recent budget cuts and increased fees for families who want their children to participate, interscholastic or high school athletics are doing well. During World War I, leaders in high school education supported sports programs as a means to raise students’ physical fitness levels, which were alarmingly low. They also felt that students would learn the values of hard work, citizenship, and good behavior through sports participation. School-based athletic participation soon became so popular that athletes became the most idealized students in school. Athletic success benefited not only the team but also the entire school, and earned them reputations of excellence and bragging rights (Eitzen and Sage, 1978). Today, sport in the educational setting is a phenomenon that is stronger in the United States than any other country in the world, and has produced both positive and negative effects for society, academia, and student achievements

(Woods, 2007, p. 116).

For the purpose of this discussion, high school sport covers grades 9 through 12.

Most high school sports programs have freshman, junior varsity, and varsity teams, where the later employs athletes with the most developed skills. At the national level, the

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) provides education,

125 publishes rules for sport competition, information, research, and guidance to the state associations (

). Sports programs at both public and private schools are governed by local leagues and state organizations to which they pay dues. They adhere to the rules and regulations established by the state association, which makes them eligible for regional play-offs and state championships. According to the NFHS (2011-12), since

1980, the percentage of students who play sports has increased 7 percent (5,356,913 to

7,692,520). Since the passage of Title IX and its mandatory inclusion and equal opportunity for both genders, girls’ participation has continued to increase at a greater rate than that of boys. In the 1971-1972 school year, only 294,015 girls participated in interscholastic sports. In 2011-2012, 3,207,533 girls participated, with an increase of almost 11 times. Today, the number is still higher for boys, but it reflects a tremendous growth for girls. The NFHS numbers for 2011-2012 show 4,484,987 boys, compared to

3,207,533 girls.

The most popular sports for boys, as seen in the number of teams rather than participants, are basketball, track and field-outdoor, baseball, and football. The least popular are wrestling, tennis, swimming, and diving. For girls, the most popular are basketball, track and field-outdoor, volleyball, and fast-pitch softball. The least popular are golf, swimming and diving, and competitive spirit squads (cheerleading) (NFHS

2011-2012). According to the NFHS, the most popular sports for high school students in terms of the number of participants in 2011- 2012 were football, track and field-outdoor, and basketball for boys; track and field-outdoor, basketball, and volleyball for girls

(NFHS, 2011-2012). This popularity is similar to the popularity of high school sports on

126 reservations, as discussed in the previous chapter. Although high school sports participation is widespread among both boys and girls, only a small percentage of high school athletes pursue a sport in college.

B. High School Athletics and Academic Performance

Studies have consistently shown that, when compared with students who do not play varsity sports, high school athletes generally have better grade point averages, more positive attitudes toward school, lower rates of absenteeism, more interest in attending college, more years of college completed, more career success, and better health (Barber et al., 2001; Coakley, 2007, p. 485; Guest and Schneider, 2003; Rees and Miracle, 2000).

Although these differences have been modest, the most logical explanation is that interscholastic sports, like other extracurricular activities, attract students who already have characteristics that lead to academic and social success in high school.

Most studies of high school students in sport have focused on the years of their participation, although a comprehensive study conducted by Carlson and Scott (2005) tracked over 25,000 high school athletes eight years after graduation, to measure if sport participation had any lasting effects. The results showed that high school athletes are more likely to continue to participate in physical fitness or recreational sport, graduate from college, be employed full time and earn a higher salary, and less likely to smoke.

The most glaring negative effect confirms the conclusion of earlier studies (Barber,

Eccles, and Stone, 2001) that higher rates of drinking and binge drinking among athletes compared to non-athletes. Although there is no consistent evidence that high school sports produce negative consequences for participants, it is clear that some schools,

127 coaches, parents, and athletes lose sight of educational goals in their obsession for athletic success. High school sport as an educational experience continues to be a critical factor in the personal development of teenagers, and it is up to school superintendents, principals, athletic directors, teachers, parents, and coaches to make sure that sports teams are organized to achieve and compliment educational goals (Coakley, 2007; Woods,


C. Intercollegiate Athletics/National Collegiate Athletic Association

Intercollegiate (college) athletics is a multifaceted component of higher education, which has shown tremendous growth in the past 50 years. From the early days of student-supported athletic teams who played other local colleges, college athletics today are more diverse and inclusive. Since the 1970s we have seen the following changes: gender equity in response to Title IX, opened doors for women including athletic scholarship; refinement of competitive divisions within the NCAA to Divisions I, II, and

III along with similar divisions of play within the other organizations (NAIA and

NJCAA); support of championships for more sports for both men and women at all levels; and separation of big-time college programs from the majority, which are more modest in expectation and expense and are closer to the original educational mission

(Woods, 2007, p. 124).

Successful intercollegiate athletics, innovative research, and effective undergraduate education are three significant marketing tools for colleges and universities. Athletic programs are separated into different categories and divisions based on an institution’s mission, financial support, national association affiliation, and the

128 rules governing each association. Intercollegiate athletic popularity on campus not only provides incentives for student attendance and an opportunity for students to bond outside of academia, but also a chance to stay connected to alumni once a student graduates.

Coaches recruit and mentors advise so the student-athlete, team and athletic program can be both athletically and academically successful. The emphasis may vary from sport to sport and program to program, but the ultimate goal is for the student-athlete to succeed in both the athletic and academic worlds.

In 1852, crew became the first intercollegiate sporting event in the United States.

Yale and Harvard crew clubs were funded by a railroad superintendent, James Elkins

(Smith, 1988). Baseball soon followed crew to college campuses. “The position of authority which Harvard commanded educationally was transferred to the intercollegiate athletic scene, giving other colleges the needed precedent to expand their programs, especially in baseball” (Smith, 1988). Spawned from rugby, football again brought

Harvard and Yale together in 1875, adding a third sport to intercollegiate athletics

(Watterson, 2000). As football became big business by 1883 and as its popularity increased, so did violence on the field. The brutality of football encouraged United States

President Theodore Roosevelt to demand changes and regulations for the sport. In 1905 the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (ICAAUS), later renamed the

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was founded over the issues of amateurism, professionalism, brutality, eligibility and ethics, as well as to protect studentathletes (Watterson, 2000). In early December 1905, 13 institutions met to initiate changes in football playing rules. By the end of the month, 62 colleges and universities

129 had become charter members of the ICAAUS. The ICAAUS was officially constituted

March 31, 1906, and took its present name, the NCAA, in 1910. For several years, the

NCAA was a discussion and rule-making body, but in 1921 the National Collegiate Track and Field Championships were conducted, the first in NCAA history. Gradually more committees were formed and more championships were implemented, including basketball in 1939 (

In the second half of the century, two new concerns arose in the world of intercollegiate athletics, deriving from the national movements towards equal rights and racial harmony. World War II had an immediate impact on college campuses around the

United States. Enrollment dropped as many potential and current students enlisted and were shipped overseas (Thornton, 1960). Moreover, WWII also resulted in the passing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944. More commonly known as the GI Bill, it provided federal funding for millions of Americans to attend college, including more than

60,000 women and 70,000 black students (Vaughan, 1995).

In 1951, Walter Byers became the NCAA’s first executive director and the next year, a national headquarters was established in Kansas City, Missouri. As college sports grew in number and popularity, the scope of the nation’s athletic programs diversified, forcing the NCAA to create different categories based on the type and size of school. In

1973, the NCAA was divided into three legislative and competitive divisions: I, II, and

III. Five years later, Division I members voted to create subdivisions I-A and I-AA

(renamed the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision in

2007) in football, exemplifying the degree and complexity of choices school

130 administrations could make. Colleges and universities determine the level at which they will compete, and new members must petition to join the division they choose. Once division affiliation is determined, members must comply with the rules (personnel, amateurism, recruiting, eligibility, benefits, financial aid, and playing and practice seasons) that vary from division to division. In 1980, the NCAA began administering women’s athletics programs, which will be further discussed in the Title IX/Women in

Intercollegiate Athletics section ( Today the NCAA’s Core Purpose is to

“govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount” (

At the end of the nineteenth century, Olympic success by athletes from the United

States cleared the path for track and field to become the fourth major intercollegiate sport of the century (Smith, 1988). As college campuses expanded in number around the country, so did the complexity of intercollegiate sports. The politics of intercollegiate athletics continued into the twentieth century. Just as enrollment trends, retention rates, and academic fraud are issues that filter through all levels of colleges and universities, intercollegiate athletic concerns and issues pervade all levels of the NCAA. Title IX and gender equity, commercialism and academic integrity are regular concerns in the world of intercollegiate athletics. Moreover, in 2001, Shulman and Bowen claimed that athletes have become disconnected with the institutions they attended, feeling connected and committed to the sport not the college or university. In 1996, in order to increase academic progress towards a degree, the NCAA, along with college administrators and

131 faculty input, raised eligibility requirements (Knight Foundation, 2001), which will be discussed further below.

Recent research indicates that scholarship-receiving NCAA Division I & II athletes receive less than a “full-ride” (a full athletic scholarship). Very few sports provide full funding for students and only a few of these offers at least two-thirds of a full scholarship. Ice hockey, for both men and women, provides 80 percent, the highest on average. Men’s football and basketball provide two-thirds of a full scholarship and all other sports range from 30-40 percent (Pennington, 2008). With tuition and living expenses ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 at most NCAA institutions, the cost to attend on a partial scholarship weighs heavily on a student athlete, who has demands to succeed in athletics and academics. The costs of 4-year colleges and universities vary greatly; private institutions rely on high tuition and endowments, while public ones rely on state subsidies, federal government monies, and tuition, all of which differ from state to state depending on economic conditions and population (Hovey, 1999). Unfortunately, state support is diminishing, affecting the disbursement of state allocated funds. All colleges and universities receive alumni donations, gifts and contributions to build endowments.

In-state tuition and fees at 4-year institutions averaged $7,828 in 2001. Response to tuition increase varies by institution, by race, and class (Heller, 1997). For every $100 increase in tuition, researchers predict a 0.5 to 1 percent drop in enrollment (Heller,

1997). Higher education institutions, with their many forms of revenue, are constantly under scrutiny for the emphasis they place on athletics. “Colleges and universities can either prepare for the changes, placing their academic priorities foremost…or they can

132 behave foolishly…and throw more money at their athletic program deficits” (Sperber,


D. The Contemporary NCAA Athlete

In 1990, the NCAA began collecting annual demographic data on each member institution utilizing the NCAA Certification of Compliance Form. Each institution was required to return this form to the national office. In 1995, legislation was passed at the

NCAA Convention that eliminated this requirement. The Institution Staff Demographic

Form was developed to gather college demographics; however, completion of this form was voluntary. This strategy makes the use of descriptive statistics questionable and biased. As a result, starting in 1995, only a sample of the population of schools and student demographics are represented in the Biennial reports. Since the form on which the information is collected changed slightly and there was no longer a census, the

Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee (MOIC) decided to use 1995 as baseline data and calculate the aggregate figures every other year to measure broad changes over time. In 1999 the NCAA implemented a data collection system that included race and ethnicity of student-athletes and other demographic characteristics of various groups within their member institutions and conferences. The data, submitted annually by

NCAA member schools, was previously compiled as the Student-Athlete Race and

Ethnicity Report, and the Race and Gender Demographics Reports (one for institutions and one for conferences) that were either printed or presented as PDFs online



The 2008-09 academic year marked another change in the way gender, race, and ethnicity data was collected. Similar to 1990, race and ethnicity data are required to be reported from the membership on official information forms. Therefore, all member schools are represented in this report and the summary is available annually. In the 2011-

2012 year, the NCAA race and ethnicity report was limited to an online database, and specific searches are necessary to obtain it; an overall report is therefore not provided.

The demographic reports include information on student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and conference personnel. The NCAA tables express the overall frequencies and percentages of the 1999-2000, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010


NCAA Collegiate student-athletes (Table 3.4 and Table 3.5).


Note that I am only using data up to 2009-2010. I have chosen to not include the 2010-2011 and 2011-

2012 data while comparing race/ethnicity demographics, because I have found many limitations with the new database. Since the overall data from 2011-2012 has not seen any telling change since 2009-2010, I am choosing to include data that has been compiled and summarized in the NCAA Annual Reports. When the

NCAA Implemented to NCAA Race and Ethnicity Demographic Data search in 2010-2011, I found inconsistencies with the Student-Athlete percentages. For example, the Demographic Data search fails to incorporate Historically Black colleges, which increases the percentages of African American Athletes.

Table 3.4: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race & Ethnicity Frequencies for

Division I, II, and III Overall (1999-2010)


* N/A=Not Available. Beginning in 2006-07 resident alien status is collected separate from ethnicity and reported in a separate table. In 2007-08 the categories of Asian and

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander have been combined. Empty cells indicate the data is unavailable.

Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 176.

Table 3.5: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race & Ethnicity Percentages for

Division I, II, and III Overall (1999-2010)


* N/A=Not Available. Beginning in 2006-07 resident alien status is collected separate from ethnicity and reported in a separate table. In 2007-08 the categories of Asian and

Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander have been combined. Empty cells indicate the data is unavailable.

Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 110.

Table 3.6 and Table 3.7 represent the overall student-athlete race and ethnicity frequency and percentage breakdown in 1999-2000.

Table 3.6: Estimated Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity

Frequencies for Division I, II and III Overall, by Sport (1999-2000)


Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 61.

Table 3.7: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Percentages for

Division I, II and III Overall, by Sport (1999-2000)


Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 12.

Table 3.8 and Table 3.9 represent the overall student-athlete race and ethnicity frequency and percentage breakdown in 2009-2010.

Table 3.8: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies for

Division I, II and III Overall, by Sport (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 104.

Table 3.9: Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Percentages for Divisions I, II and III Overall, by Sport (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 55.

These tables present a breakdown of sports participation, male and female participation, as well as Race/Ethnicity participation. This section will discuss these tables and provide an overview of the race and ethnicity student-athlete demographics.

Upon searching the NCAA website, there were a total of 459,253 NCAA athletes in the

2011-2012 academic year (261,150 male and 198,103 female). This is an increase from

140 the 357,114 NCAA athletes in 1999-2000 academic year (207,064 male and 150,050 female) (

Below I will discuss the Student-Athlete Identity, NCAA academic success and standards, as well as three special population athletic groups within the NCAA: Female

Collegiate Athletes, African American Collegiate Athletes, and American Indian

Collegiate Athletes.

E. Student-Athlete Identity

Brewer, Van Raalte, and Linder (1993) define athletic identity as “the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role” (p. 237). Incoming freshmen athletes enter college with an already established sense of their athletic abilities and athletic identity, nurtured during their elementary and high school years by family, friends, coaches, teammates, and members of their own community. In college, their world turns structured, complex, and richly textured. College years are a dynamic period of development for students. Key developmental tasks include establishing independence, solidifying a firm identity, learning to manage relationships, and planning for future and lifestyle goals (Cornelius, 1995). Many researchers have undertaken the task of investigating athletic identity and attempting to understand its relationships to other role identities of student-athletes (Brewer et. al, 1993). It has been suggested that athletics can provide college students with valuable life skills and psychological benefits that can help them cope with these developmental tasks. Athletics also teach individuals’ selfdiscipline, teamwork, confidence, work ethic, leadership, social, and interpersonal skills

(Richards and Aries, 1999). Social identity theory (Brown, 2000) posits that many first-

141 year college athletes should identify themselves with the socially desirable student-athlete status, to give them a sense of belonging and self-worth, especially in large, impersonal institutions. The national media campaign of the NCAA actively promotes the attainability, stature and ubiquity of the student-athlete identity in its member institutions.

To explore both the benefits and limitations of the athletic identity, Adler and

Adler (1991) conducted a study on the athletic experiences of a NCAA Division I basketball team. As a result of the psychological [study], Backboards & Blackboards:

College Athletes and Role Engulfment emerged as an initial look into student-athlete identity. The authors focused on social psychological knowledge of the self, society and social change through student-athlete experience, as well as the structure and dynamic processes of the self within surrounding culture and social structure. The authors’ observations reveal a significant pattern of experienced transformation, known as “roleengulfment” (Adler and Adler, 1991, p. 27), which suggests that student-athletes who have pursued and played a collegiate sport are engulfed or immersed by their role as an athlete. Identity theory support the process of ascendance and subversion of all other roles by the athletic role, while role theory focuses on the systems or institutions into which individual and group interactions fit.

In order to resolve role conflict, student-athletes face a significant decision about the paths they take for their college career, academically, socially and athletically.

Though many athletes would enjoy being able to successfully fulfill the three roles completely, this is often very difficult, given the demands placed upon them by athletic scholarships and performance expectations. Because of this, student-athletes may enter

142 into a state of identity foreclosure. This term refers to the process of closing off of any further role identity exploration in an individual and is typically used to avoid any crisis association with role conflict (Erikson, 1956). When one experiences identity foreclosure he or she typically settles into the identity which is most salient at that particular time and ceases to allow him- or herself to see him- or herself in any other way. Instead of a hierarchy composed of multiple identities, foreclosed individuals let one identity become so salient that the others cease to exist in the hierarchy or have very little importance.

Adler and Adler argue that, “Roles consist of the activities people of a given status are likely to pursue when following the normative expectations for their positions. Identities are the self-conceptions people develop from occupying a particular status or enacting a role. The self is the more global, multirole, core conception of the real person” (1991, p.

28). Role theory then enhances both the understanding of the inner structure of self and the relationship between self and society through cultural and structural expectations

(Adler and Adler, 1991, p. 29). The athletic identity is therefore shaped through the athletic role and the cultural and social expectations of that role as expressed through relationships.

Adler and Adler’s (1991) findings suggest that most freshmen athletes entered college with an established sense of their athletic abilities and identity developed during their childhood and high school years and reinforced by family, coaches, and members of their community. Their athletic ability in high school allowed them to lead active social lives, often as admired and respected individuals. In many ways, high school athletes believed that college would be an extension of high school, where they would perform

143 well in the social, academic, and athletic arenas. While all participants believed they were athletes first, they also recognized and acknowledged that they possessed other roles and identities that were important to them as well. This led them to have expectations that in college, their socialization process as both a student and an athlete would not be difficult. Yet, as they matriculated into college athletics and became socialized to the new arena, they saw that their expectations differed from reality. Not only were they expected to be athletes on the court, they were expected to remain athletes in the classroom and during their personal social time. Fellow students, professors and community members saw them as athletes first, diminishing the other aspects of their identity. The demands to do well in school and perform well on the court placed on them were far more extreme and extensive than they had imagined, and their role as an athlete began to encroach on other facets of their lives, causing athletic role engulfment and student role foreclosure.

The rewards of this athletic role counterattacked their interest in other activities and other dimensions of their selves. They became engulfed in the athletic role and neglected or abandoned their other identities, roles, and activities (Adler and Adler, 1991, p. 27, 219-

220). For example, as athletes were congratulated for a win, or mourned for a loss, the successes in the classroom became irrelevant to who they were as a person and how they maneuvered through their lives.

Despite Adler and Adler’s findings suggesting that student athletes will fully immerse themselves in their athletic role, leading to the identity of an athlete dominating other roles and activities in academic and social spheres, more recent studies suggest that this correlation does not always hold true. The 2005 article “The Career Planning,


Athletic Identity, and Student Role Identity of Intercollegiate Student Athletes” suggests that student athletes may invest in both the athlete and student role identities simultaneously and that investing in the student role may permit the exploration of nonsport career options (Kerr and Lally, p. 275). The purpose of the study was to examine the career planning of university student athletes and analyze the relationships among their career planning and athletic and student role identities. For this dissertation I conducted two retrospective in-depth interviews with ten (5 male, 5 female) collegiate student athletes. Although this is a small sample size and not controlled by type of sport, the findings suggest that participants entered college having given little thought to their career objectives. Instead, attending college was heavily tied to their athletic identity.

Many hoped they would become professional athletes or just thought they could continue to play sports, and college was an opportunity to do so. However, in the latter years of their college careers, participants’ initial ambitions about a sport career subsided, allowing the student role to become more prominent. This study posits that athletic role engulfment and poor student identity development result in insufficient career planning.

The failure of student-athletes to have well-defined career plans is consistent with other studies that suggest student athletes enter college with a vague understanding of their non-sport career interests (Adler and Adler, 1987).

For example, in 1996, Murphy et al. measured the career maturity and athletic identity of Division I male and female student-athletes using the Athletic Identity

Measurement Scale (AIMS). The purpose of the AIMS is to reflect both strength and exclusivity of identification with the athlete role (Brewer et al., 1993). Since its

145 development, it has been used and cited repeatedly throughout the literature, more than any other athletic identity instrument. The researchers found that athletes with strong athletic identity, where the sport role was particularly salient, had a difficult time making mature career decisions. They concluded that committing strongly to an athletic identity kept student athletes from planning for career options after college; they remained immature in terms of career preparation. This finding suggests a negative correlation between career planning and athletic identity. However, in 1998, Brown and Hartley examined the same relationship among 114 NCAA Division I and II football and basketball players’ AIMS scores, focusing on career planning, career exploration, career decision making, knowledge of the world of work, and knowledge of preferred occupational group. The results expressed no statistically significant correlation or even a non-significant relationship between the athletic identity and these five individual measures. Moreover, athletic identity was also not significantly affected by level of competition. It is important to note that two revenue-producing sports were the only sports included in this study. Though the authors propose that differences may not exist among athletic identity and career maturity between the two divisions, it is more likely that this study provides evidence that student-athletes in revenue-producing sports display similar levels of athletic identity and career maturity, despite the level of competition.

Martens and Cox (2000) found similar results when using the AIMS, but used a different measure of career development; a scale called My Vocational Situation. Their findings suggest that unlike the role engulfment seen by Adler and Adler (1991), a student-athlete’s investment in the student role may be equally or more important than

146 their athletic role when determining career choices. Although athletic identities may encourage a strong commitment to athletic roles, a young person’s investment in student identity may promote interest in non-sport career options.

In a subsequent study, Brown et al. (2000) used two measures of role experimentation [(a) identity foreclosure, the degree to which an individual commits prematurely and solely to a role without exploration of other roles, and (b) athletic identity] to explore relations between career decision making self-efficacy, career locus of control, identity foreclosure, and athletic identity of 189 male and female college student-athletes. Their results revealed that athletes who committed early to the athletic role and had little exploration in other roles reported lower self-efficacy for thinking about/deciding on a career after college. Moreover, identifying strongly as a studentathlete was not related to a respondent’s belief in his or her ability to make post-college career decisions. Brown et al. (2000) further suggest “…it is possible for a student athlete to express high athletic identity while also possessing a strong commitment to his/her student role identity” and that “[d]oing so would likely allow for exploration of other life and career domains” (p. 60).

Although previous studies have indicated that student-athletes may be less career mature than non-athletes (Kennedy and Dimick, 1987; Sowa and Gressard, 1983) other research has shown that no relationship exists between level of identification to the athlete role and levels of career maturity. Smallman and Sowa (1996) studied the impact of race and type of sport played on career maturity in 125 male varsity athletes enrolled in an NCAA Division I university, using the Career Development Inventory (CDI). This

147 instrument assesses individual attitudes, knowledge and skills related to vocational decision making. Race was split into two binary categories, one group was composed of minorities, including African American, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native

Americans, and “other,” while the second group consisted of student-athletes selfidentifying as White. Type of sport was divided into two categories of revenueproducing sport comprised of football and basketball, and non-revenue producing sport consisting of wrestling, track, tennis, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, and baseball.

Researchers claimed that neither race nor type of sport indicated a significant difference in levels of career maturity, suggesting that student-athletes in non-revenue producing sports were not different from those playing revenue-producing sports. Unfortunately, athletic identity was not measured; therefore, any differences resulting from varying levels of athletic identity were not evident.

Overall, the college student-athlete identity research suggests that universities have a unique opportunity to foster self-perception as a “student-athlete”. This is one of the few variables and conclusions consistent within the literature. From this, I determine that these contradictory findings call for further research that takes into account other variables: the level of competition, sport played, financial support, as well as how family background and cultural ties to a community enhance or discourage non-sport career options and identity. These confounding variables will be included in my research.

F. NCAA and Student-Athlete Graduation Rate

“Still think we’re a bunch of dumb jocks?” This question was asked by Cynthia

Dallas, a former All-Big Ten performer, who starred in the NCAA public service

148 announcement. The “Dumb Jock” commercial was running during the 2011 coverage of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It states that “Division I student athletes have higher SAT and ACT scores than college bound students…graduation rates are at an all-time high…African American males who are student-athletes are ten times more likely to graduate.” The commercial ends with a male student-athlete narrator stating, “there are over 400,000 student-athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports,” alluding to the importance of earning a college degree for life after college/sport. The NCAA put forth the commercial to counteract the “dumb jock” stigma as well as express NCAA efforts to increase and implement academic standards for student-athletes.

NCAA President Mark Emmert stated, “Success for student-athletes is ultimately measured by how well they do in the classroom. There is room for greater progress, and we continue to work hard to that end, but today we celebrate this important milestone”

(NCAA grad rates, October, 2011). The milestone that Emmert is speaking of is the

Graduation Success Rate (GSR) measurement that was implemented by the NCAA in

1998 to more accurately assess the academic success of student-athletes. The rate holds institutions accountable for transfer students and mid-year enrollees for every sport, unlike the federal graduate rate assessment. By counting incoming transfer students and mid-year enrollees, the GSR increases the total number of student-athletes tracked for graduation by 37 percent. More than eight out of ten Division I student-athletes are earning their degrees within six years, the highest marks ever for graduation, according to the most recent NCAA figures. Moreover, the single-year GSR for student-athletes who

149 began college in 2004 is 82 percent, a new high for the NCAA, three points higher than

2010 and eight points higher than when GSR collection began a decade ago (NCAA grad rates, 2011). Even when measuring student-athlete success using the federal graduation rate formula, Division I student-athletes who began college in 2004 graduated at a 65 percent rate, also the highest ever and two points higher than the general student body.

Minority students or “African-American” students-athletes have also increased graduation rates. The single year GSR for African-American student-athletes is up two points over the previous year and up one point for African-American men’s basketball players. Table 3.10 shows that since 1998, when student-athletes were first tracked using the GSR, the GSR continues to outpace the federal graduation rate. Although rates for

African-American student-athletes have increased, they are still lower than whites’, a discrepancy that not only exists for African Americans, but has yet to be discussed by the

NCAA for other “minority” students.


Table 3.10: NCAA Division I Student-Athlete GSR (1998-2004)

YEAR Federal GSR % Federal GSR % NCAA GSR %

General Student Body Student-Athlete Student-Athlete

1998 60% 62% 76%

1999 61% 63% 77%





















Source: NCAA Grad Rates Top 80 Percent.

The NCAA has also measured Division II student-athletes’ Academic Success

Rate (ASR) since 2004. This measure is similar to the Division I’s GSR and includes student-athletes not receiving athletically related financial aid. The 2011 figures show a

73 percent ASR for Division II entering class of 2004, steady from the previous year. The federal rate for Division II student-athletes is 55 percent, which is six points higher than the overall student body at Division II colleges and universities (NCAA grad rates, 2011).

The federal graduation rate statistics do not cover Division III student-athletes, because they only include student-athletes who receive athletic financial aid, which is against

Division III school regulations. The overall federal graduation rate for students who entered Division III universities in 2004 is 65 percent, with an average of 63 percent over the past four years. In 2009, the Division III Presidents Council approved regulations to explore the possibility of calculating graduation rate and academic success rates for


Division III student-athletes, however there are not any findings to date (NCAA grad rates, 2011).

Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Harford, stressed that recent classroom success is a result of the groundbreaking academic reform movement over the past decade. “I am excited about the progress so far, and I look forward to continuing to watching more and more student-athletes earn their college degrees each year” (NCAA grad rates, 2011). Harrison is speaking of the new eligibility standards that were passed in October 2011 by the

Division I Board of Directors, which will take effect in August 2016. The Board believes three significant initiatives will ensure student academic success. Through the first initiative, the NCAA will now allow institutions (if their conference permits it) to award additional athletic scholarship money to help fill the gap between what full athletic scholarships offer and the actual cost of attending college. Athletes can receive additional scholarships funds of up to $2,000, or the full cost to attend college, whichever is less.

Miscellaneous costs account for the gaps in the “full” athletic scholarship, which can be misleading. Division I student-athletes still seek out non-athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance. For example, in 2009-2010, 16 percent of Division I athletes received a Pell Grant, one-third of which were full scholarships. The NCAA also has the Student Assistance Fund, which was created to help needy athletes cover basic and emergency expenses. NCAA officials estimate that 40 percent of Division I athletes receive money from this pool at some point during their college careers (Moltz, 2011).

Ellen J. Staurowsky, professor and chair of graduate studies in sport management at


Ithaca College, said that she hopes this program will start a conversation to help negate some long-held myths about athletic scholarships. “I hope that acknowledging that a full ride is not a full ride will at least allow the college sport community to sort of rectify a mythology that has been out there” (as in Moltz, 2011).

The second initiative will concentrate on Academic Progress Rate, a team-based metric which accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete. The new regulations indicate that half the athletes on a given team must be on track to graduate in order for teams to remain in good standing with the NCAA. Teams that do not achieve a score of 930 will be ineligible for post-season competition (including bowl games in football), in addition to face financial penalties. The clear-cut 930 ban will not be in full effect until the 2015-2016 academic year, however beginning in 2014 teams not meeting an average standard will be ineligible for post-season play (Grasgreen, 2011, 2013). The third initiative increases the minimum grade-point average athletes must have in a set of high school core courses to qualify to compete once in college from a 2.0 to a 2.3 (and a

2.5 up from 2.0 for transfer students). The NCAA has adjusted its sliding scale to account for the change, which allows athletes to compensate for lower GPAs with higher standardized test scores. The rules also require students to have completed 10 of the 16 required core courses before their senior year of high school. This change in policy aims to eliminate the “summer miracle,” where student athletes seeking an athletic scholarship, pack all required core courses into a summer before graduation (Grasgreen, 2013).

Over the past decade the NCAA has persistently addressed the importance of the student-athlete academic success and team accountability, as part of its mission to


“integrate athletics into the fabric of higher education” ( However, while

NCAA data show student-athletes, particularly African-American males, graduating at a higher rate than their counterparts in the general student body in almost every category and “in a 10-year time frame that begins after high school, nearly 90 percent of studentathletes graduate,” a survey that they themselves conducted suggests otherwise (Lowry,

2012). In 2011, the NCAA revealed male student-athletes (regardless of race/ethnicity) consider themselves athletes before students and spend more time on their athletic performance than their academic performance. Additionally, male college football players’ graduation rates across the country are 16 percent below the general student population graduation rates, while male college basketball players are 25 percent below.

Moreover, according to an exploratory study, “Comparing Sources of Stress in

College Student Athletes and Non-Athletes,” student-athletes at the college level face both a unique style as well as higher levels of stress than do their counterparts (Wilson and Pritchard, 2005). Student-athletes reported having less time for sleep, heavier pressure and demands, little time for themselves, and more relationship problems than non-athletes. Student-athletes had high stress levels when it came to making important life decisions and focusing on their education and social pressures. The interaction of these multiple stressors can present a problem for the college student-athlete, and evidence suggests that the combination of stressors has a negative effect on their wellbeing (Humphrey, Yow, and Bowden, 2000). Because athletes often represent an “atrisk” student group in terms of college academic success, it is important to identify the

154 sources of stresses experienced and provide necessary prevention and intervention programs that aid in both academic success and overall well-being.

While opinions about the recently passed Academic Progress Rate rules vary widely, Eric Hart, associate athletic director for academic services for student-athletes at

Delaware State University, believes it is a tough but realistic plan to assert the importance of academics to student-athletes. In the past nine years, no Delaware State football player was drafted to the NFL. “I took that back to our student-athletes and said, ‘Your plan should be to get your degree…Use your education as a vehicle to play your sport, and not the other way around’” (as in Grasgreen, 2013). This reality parallels the final words in the “Dumb Jock” commercial; “there are over 400,000 student athletes, and just about all of us will be going pro in something other than sports.” While athletics can serve as a motivation tool to earn a college degree, it can also function as a diversion to the ultimate goal of attending college: earning a degree. Collegiate student-athletes experience an ambiguous space within higher education.

G. Title IX/Women in Intercollegiate Athletics

Higher education institutions and athletic programs have been coexisting for over a century in the United States. Near the turn of the twentieth century sport gained popularity as an outlet for working class “male” youth (Cahn, 1994). As explained in

Bloom’s Female Physical Fitness (2000), females attempting to enjoy the benefits of athletics were often met with opposition. Although physicians believed that physical fitness was beneficial in promoting healthy bodies, active, contact sports and competitive manly games were considered dangerous to the female body and mind. Nevertheless,

155 through the first two decades of the twentieth century, club sports for women grew in popularity; athletics as competitive activities for women did not. “Play days” for women were the most popular sports events in the 1930s and 1940s (Sack and Staurowsky,

1998), and in the 1950s, the Olympic governing bodies considered eliminating several track and field events for women because they were not naturally feminine (Cahn, 1994).

The women’s movement in the 1960s paved the way for the development and implementation of women’s intercollegiate athletics (Sack and Staurowsky, 1998).

In 1970, there were only 2.5 women’s teams per school (Acosta and Carpenter,

2008, p.10); a new law was needed to change the situation. Title IX is an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1972 that prohibits colleges and universities from excluding students on the basis of sex from participating in or benefiting from any educational program or activity that receives federal aid (Suggs, 2005). Colleges and universities are required to comply with Title IX in three areas: (1) participation opportunities; (2) equitable distribution of scholarships; and, (3) equivalent resources, such as coaches, travel and equipment, as reviewed by to the Office of Civil Rights (Suggs, 2005). Under

Title IX, a school has three options to demonstrate compliance with the law’s requirements for equal opportunity: (1) substantial proportionality, the most frequently used mechanism, holds that a school is in compliance if the shortfall of athletes needed is not enough to field a team; (2) institution shows historical progress in upgrading the program of the historically underrepresented sex (female); and, (3) institution proves that the underrepresented sex (female) is fully and effectively accommodated (Acosta and


Carpenter, 2008). Option two and three are not easily quantifiable and therefore are not frequently used.

Research shows that NCAA schools have made great strides with respect to gender equality and equity in sports since 1972 (Anderson and Cheslock, 2005).

Women’s soccer and softball, for example, have grown extensively. In 2008, women’s participation in intercollegiate athletics was the highest in history, with 8.65 women’s teams per school, over 180,000 female intercollegiate athletes, and 9,109 women’s teams in all NCAA sports. Division I offers the most women’s teams per school year with an average of 9.54. Division III follows next with an average of 8.78, and Division II at

7.28. Both Division I and II have added an average of 1.21 teams per school year in the past twelve years, and Division III is not far behind with an average of 1.03. Carpenter and Acosta emphasize that the numbers representing the growth in female collegiate athletes and teams over the past 30 years demonstrates without question that the phrase,

“If you build it, they will come”, applies to women’s athletic programs (2008). The growth at the college level somewhat parallels growth at the high school level. Data from the National Federation of State High School Associations shows that female athletes are participating in higher levels than ever before, and that in 2007 there were more than three million athletic participants (Acosta and Carpenter, 2008, p.10).

Title IX has not been the only influential factor in the increase of female collegiate athletes. The increased participation and skills developed by young women as well as society’s greater acceptance of female athleticism and success have made sport an intricate part of young female’s lives. Moreover, the increased positive media coverage

157 of female athleticism, rather than the female body as an object, has helped young women see themselves as athletes, and improved societal perception about the female athlete.

There have also been successful advocacy efforts, such as the National Association for

Girls and Women in Sport and the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic

Administrators (Acosta and Carpenter, 2008).

Intercollegiate sports have increased at all levels, as new sports have been added and programs for women have developed and prospered. There is still the issue of racial inequalities as well as a low number of female coaches and administrators. In 2010, the percentage of white female student athletes at the Division I, II and III combined was

77.2 percent, 11.6 percent for African American females, 4.0 for Latinas, 1.5 percent for

Asian females, and 0.3 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native females (Lapchick,

2010, p. 5).

More than three-and-a-half decades after the passage of Title IX, women coaching women’s teams still do not represent the majority of coaches in the women’s game. In addition, 2010 numbers show no progress in women’s participation in most sports (Table

3.9). Women head coaches in Division I basketball remained stable (64.7 percent in

2007-08 and 65.9 percent in 2009-10). Head coaches of Division I Track/Cross Country, which combines the head coaches of Cross Country, Indoor Track and Outdoor Track, were also stable in female head coaches from 20.2 percent in 2007-08 to 19.7 percent in

2009-10. In all other sports, men led 55.5 percent of the women’s teams while women were head coaches in 45 percent of the programs. African-American women held 11.4 percent and African-American men held 3.9 percent of women’s head coaching positions

158 in Division I basketball for a combined percentage of 15.3 percent (up from 13.6 percent). Nonetheless, the 13.6 percentage stood in stark contrast to the 51.5 percent of the student-athletes playing women’s basketball who were African-American. As assistant coaches for women’s teams in 2009-2010, women held 49.0 percent of the positions in Division I, 49.7 percent in Division II, and 49.3 percent in Division III

(Lapchick, 2010, p. 6; Table 3.5). As for athletic directors, females dropped slightly by

0.1 percent since 2008, with a 15.5 percent in 2010. In contrast, the percentage of female athletic directors increased to 8.3 percent (up 0.5 percent points) and 27.4 percent (up 0.3 percentage points in Division I and Division II respectively. The percentage of women filling associate athletic director positions was 31.1 percent in Division I, 42.0 percent in

Division II, and 46.1 percent in Division III. The steadiness of these figures suggests there is not enough change to show trends of progress.

Women held 100 percent of the Senior Women Administrator jobs in Division I,

II and III. White women continued to dominate the SWA positions; 85.1, 81.1 and 93.7 percent in Division I, II and III. African American women represented 10.1, 15.4 and 4.2 percent at each level (Lapchick, 2010, p. 7). In The 2010 Racial and Gender Report

Card, compiled by The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport, college sport received an overall grade of a B, mostly due to the increase of African American coaches, athletic directors, and administrators. American Indian numbers were so low, that the presence of

American Indian females in these positions was not even mentioned. While female existence increased slightly, they are still seriously underrepresented in sport coaching and administrative positions.


The NCAA gave itself an overall B for the 2010 gender hiring practices. Although there have been great strides in female intercollegiate sports over the last four decades, with the large number of high school female athletes, plus club and community teams, many more women’s collegiate teams are needed. The interest, abilities, and motivation of female high school and college athletes are far from exhausted.

H. African American/Black Student-Athletes

In his definitive history of the black athlete, Arthur Ashe divided his work into three volumes (1993). The first volume dealt with black athletes from the 1600s up to the time of World War I. As sport entered into a golden age in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, a few black athletes became household names, including Jesse Owens in track and field and Joe Louis in boxing. It was not however, until after World War II that integration became a reality in most American sports, spearheaded by the breaking of the color barrier in major league baseball by Jackie Robinson.

The African American athlete has been studied, written about, admired, scorned, and persecuted in American sport. Because of the notable success by black athletes, a great deal of attention has been given to the reasons behind this achievement. Ash’s third installment explores the impact that black athletes have had on black American history and unpacks the question, “Do black Americans have some genetic edge in physical activities involving running and jumping?” Two popular phrases have been coined in the

American sports arenas: “White men can’t jump” (compared to black men) and “Blacks have brawn, not brains.” Because African Americans participate in large numbers in basketball, football, and baseball in both the American professional and collegiate world,

160 and these sports consume a huge proportion of media, attention and money, it is assumed that black athletes dominate sport. In most sports, however, they are underrepresented compared to their white counterparts (Table 3.9).

In the early part of the twentieth century, black athletes struggled to find colleges and universities to attend. “Put simply and bluntly, from about 1900 to 1930 few black football players competed for flagship state universities, private colleges or large private universities” (Watterson, 2000, p. 310). In the 1936 Olympics, track and field success by

Jessie Owens inspired young black athletes. Similarly, black women track stars dominated the 1948 Olympic Games. On college campuses, however, they suffered, just as their male counterparts did: “Southern black women’s teams, excluded from regional competitions, were limited to black intercollegiate meets and the AAU national championships” (Cahn, 1994, p. 42). Black college athletes continued to strive to participate at or against predominantly white colleges. In the second half of the century, however, black student-athlete participation increased in all colleges and universities.

The Southeastern Conference was the last major athletic conference to integrate in

1966. In the late 1960s, there were still no black athletes at several schools in the conference, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Louisiana State, and

Georgia. By 1972 there were more than 100 black athletes playing football in the conference, and by 1975 the University of Alabama started five black athletes in basketball (Woods, 2007, p. 191). Similarly to American Indian students, inadequate secondary preparation (Eitzen and Purdy, 1986; Bowen and Bok, 1998) and cultural differences (Hawkins, 1999; Rhoden, 2006) fostered low graduation rates among black

161 students. Although completion rates have improved for student-athletes over the last twenty years, black students continue to lag behind white students.

In The 2005 Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sports, Richard Lapchick and Jenny Brenden report that 24.8 percent of the total male student-athlete population for the NCAA Division I level were black. Black female student-athletes constituted

43.7 percent of basketball players and 26.0 percent of cross country/track and field athletes, but only 4.6 percent of other sports (Lapchick and Brenden, 2006). In all three

NCAA divisions, the overall percentage of black male student-athletes has increased from 16.3 percent in 1990-91 to 18.7 in 2009-2010. The percentage of black athletes has increased from 9.4 to 11.6 percent (NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report, 2010, p. 7).

In 2009-2010, the highest percentage of male basketball student athletes in Division I was black (60.9 percent). For the fourth year in a row, the highest percentage of female basketball student-athletes was also black (51 percent). The next highest percentage of both male and female basketball student-athletes was white, respectively (30.5 percent and 40.2 percent). In 2009-2010, the percentage of black football student-athletes (45.8 percent) and white football student-athletes (45.1 percent) was essentially the same

(NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report, 2010, p. 8). Clearly, black student-athletes are receiving access to higher education through athletic scholarships and playing in highprofile collegiate teams.

An unfortunate outcome of black students’ athletic success is the shameful way some schools, coaches, and universities exploit them for their athletic talent. While athletes of all racial backgrounds are susceptible to exploitation in collegiate and

162 professional sports, because black athletes make up a large percentage of Division I money making sports teams, they are disproportionately at risk. Numerous studies have focused on: the exploitation of black athletes concentrating on the effects of stereotyping from racial ideology to ideas about black body superiority (Harrison and Lawrence, 2004;

Harrison et al., 2004; Stone et al., 1997, 1999); black athletes as mere “entertainers” with limited social identities beyond sport (Adler and Adler, 1991; Harrison, 1998); overemphasis of athletics at the expense of an academic future (Eitzen and Purdy, 2003;

Muse, 2000); negative racial perceptions by faculty, the “Dumb Jock” assumption

(Edwards, 1985; Lapchick, 1996); and, the commodification, alienation, and exploitation of black athletes (Bacon, 1997; Eitzen, 1986; Zimbalist, 2000).

Racism and racist ideologies are still very prevalent and relevant in the American sports world. In the early twentieth century, racism, at first, seemed to allow cultural space for black athletes to be entertainers for the enjoyment of whites, but blacks faced exclusion in other spheres of social life, including sports. Between 1945 and 1950, when major sports establishments became integrated, the African American athlete exploded on the playing fields (track, basketball, baseball, and football); white athletes were not the only ones seen in the sprints on the track or the backfield of the gridiron. Despite the entrance of black athletes in a limited range of sports, they still faced legal and social discrimination: marginal economic availability, poor living conditions, segregated housing, and scarce resources. Today, sports participation rates in middle and upper income white communities in the United States are much higher than those in

163 predominantly black communities, especially those where resources are scarce (Coakley,

2007, p. 299).

Racial ideologies, cultural blindness, and reductionist reasoning cause many people to overlook this fact and assume that, because they only see the black male athletes who make high salaries in high profile sports, these have taken over and racism and discrimination in sports have disappeared. Unfortunately for the black male and female collegiate athlete, racial ideology and racism still constitute part of their daily lives; even if they are deemed “athletically superior,” they still struggle to earn college degrees and create social spaces outside the sports world. In “$40 Million Dollar Slaves,”

New York Time’s columnist William Rhoden (2006) argued that despite the fame, fortune, and tremendous achievements of black athletes in the United States today, these players have little to no power in the multi-billion dollar sports industry. Rhoden compared today’s African American athletes to indentured slaves of the past, arguing that the primary difference is that today’s black athlete bear responsibility for their own enslavement. Edwards (1985) notes that because “the black male athlete in American society has been systematically cut off from mainstream routes of masculine expression such as economic success, authority positions, etc.” (p. 374), sport has led to the conceptualization and celebration of black athleticism as a natural phenomenon, therefore perpetuating the mind-body divide and the educational implications for black youth.

III. American Indian/Alaska Natives and Higher Education

Higher education has become a very prominent part of American culture, seen as necessary for life’s financial necessities and job advancements, yet only about 22 percent

164 of the United States population has a college degree (Educational Attainment in the

United States, U.S. Census, 2008). While these figures demonstrate that everyone works hard to earn a degree, American Indian students have struggled more than any other ethnic group. The history of American Indian higher education is one of compulsory

Western methods of learning, recurring attempts to eradicate tribal cultures, high dropout rates, and low graduation rates for American Indian students at mainstream institutions.

As with other ethnic or minority groups, American Indians’ participation in higher education is a complex picture.

Historically, American Indians have had the fewest number of students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs compared to any ethnic or racial groups. Although progress in educational attainment has been made, American

Indians/Alaska Natives also have the highest high school drop-out rates (Swanson, 2004), are the least likely to have completed college preparatory classes in high school (Chavers,

2002; Greene and Forster, 2003), have the lowest college entrance and retention rates

(Devoe and Darling-Churchill), and, least likely to attain a college education (Brayboy,

Fann, Castango, and Solyom, 2012).

With the importance of earning a college degree for future social and economic stability being discussed on a national level, American Indian youth are increasing in attending college, not only for themselves, but also to provide for their families and communities. The number of American Indian/Alaska Natives enrolled in college has more than doubled in the past 30 years (DeVoe and Darling-Churchill, 2008, p. v).

Despite these desires and increased enrollment, there are still problems. In 2008, the


National Center for Education Statistics released a report entitled Status and Trends in

the Education of American Indian and Alaskan Natives, which states that the number of

American Indian/Alaska Native 10 th

grade students expected to go to college and complete a bachelor’s degree has increased by 21 percent between 1980 and 2004, and there was an increase of 27 percent in the number who expected to complete a graduate or professional degree. This measure had 69 percent of high school seniors expected to obtain a bachelor’s degree or beyond as their highest level of education (33 percent expected to graduate from college, while 35 percent projected to continue to graduate or professional school). No measurable differences were detected among American

Indian/Alaska Native students who expected to complete high school or a bachelor’s degree and the percentages of students of other race/ethnicities having the same expectations (DeVoe and Darling-Churchill, 2008, p. 60).

Although the goal of graduating from college is common, only 17 percent of

American Indian students who completed high school actually attend any college, compared to the national average of 67 percent (Benally, 2004). One of the barriers is no high school completion. In 2006, 75 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives who had been sophomores in 2002 reported that they had received a high school diploma by

2006, compared to 91 percent of whites and 93 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander. A larger percentage of American Indians/Alaska Natives (12 percent) than whites (3 percent) and

Asian/Pacific Islander (2 percent) reported that they had not received a high school credentials and were neither enrolled nor working towards one (DeVoe and Darling-

Churchill, 2008, p. 56). Another study stated American Indians/Alaska Natives (AIAN)

166 have the lowest high school completion rate in the country: 51 percent of 9 th

graders will complete 12 th

grade compared to 69 percent for all racial/ethnic groups combined

(Swanson, 2004). In 2010, 77 percent of AIAN 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, GED or alternative credential. Only 13 percent of AIAN had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to the overall population with a high school diploma at 86 percent and 28 percent with a bachelor’s degree (American Indians by

Numbers, 2007). Secondly, in 2007, American Indian/Alaska Native college-bound seniors who elected to take the SAT scored below the national average on the critical readings, mathematics, and writing portions of the exam (DeVoe and Darling-Churchill,

2008, p. 92). Moreover, American Indian/Alaskan Natives have the lowest proportion of students taking advanced courses in high school (Brayboy et al., 2012).

According to US Census data, American Indians/Alaska Natives (AIAN) comprised 1.7 percent of the Unites States population in 2010. Although the proportion of AIAN students who participate in higher education is slightly higher than their representation in the nation’s total population, AIAN student enrollment remains low. Of the more than 19.1 million students in the nation’s colleges and universities, only 193,289 are AIAN (DeVoe and Darling-Churchill, 2008). African American and Hispanic students participate below parity, but far greater numbers attend college than do AIAN.

Although the percentage of AIAN enrolled in a four-year degree-granting university has increased from 0.7 percent in 1976 to 1 percent in 2010, AIAN are still underrepresented compared to other racial/ethnic groups (Digest of Educational Statistics, 2010). The percentage distribution of students enrolled in degree-granting institutions by race in


2007 includes whites at 64.4 percent, blacks at 13.1percent, Hispanics at 11.4 percent,

Asian/Pacific Islanders at 6.7 percent, and American Indians at 1 percent (Statistics,

Status, Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 2011).

A closer look at patterns of participation of AIAN students reveals areas of additional concern. In 2007-08, white students received 71.8 percent of all bachelor’s degrees overall in the country, 66 percent of the master’s degree, 57 percent of the doctoral degrees, and 72 percent of the professional degrees. American Indians received

0.7 percent of the bachelor’s degree, 0.6 percent of the master’s degrees, 0.4 percent of the doctoral degrees, and 0.7 percent of the professional degrees (Digest of Educational

Statistics, 2010). During the academic year 2008-09, AI/AN students received only 0.7 percent of the bachelor’s degrees, 0.5 percent of the master’s degrees and 0.49 percent of the doctoral degrees awarded (Digest of Educational Statistics, 2010). The representation for American Indian population in higher education is small, amounting to less than 1 percent of all degrees awarded, an obvious achievement gap between AIAN and all other student populations and one lower than their overall population.

Typical barriers to obtaining education for any population include poverty. The official poverty rate on reservations is 28.4 percent, compared with 15.3 percent nationally. Thirty-six percent of families with children are below the poverty line on reservations compared with 9.2 percent of families nationally (DeVoe and Darling-

Churchill, 2008). American Indians report substantially lowers median family income

($28,400) than their Asian ($45,700) and white ($36,600) peers (Statistics, Status, Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives, 2011).


Indigenous populations are misunderstood, overlooked and misrepresented in higher education research and institutional strategies. American Indian and Alaska Native students, faculty, staff, and administrators are often ignored because of their lack of presence in colleges and universities. They are also underrepresented in many studies and data sources, because the number is seen too low to be included in any meaningful way

(Brayboy et al., 2012). Moreover, when American Indians are included, it is most often through a deficit model, which focuses on the student as the major problem, neither looking within the environment nor the instructional practices in the classroom;

American Indian students are the least likely to earn degrees and succeed based on the traditional measures of higher education standards.

IV. American Indian Identity and Identity Formation

For American Indian student-athletes it is important to investigate the formation of self-identity and its relationship with regards to culture, agency, and institutional social structure. To understand this we must first look at the literature on American Indian identify and identity formation. While there is no monolithic concept of American Indian identity, through its connection to language, landscape, indigenous knowledge, and history identity serves many purposes for an individual and community, both within and outside the realms of academia and in the college sports arena.

Identities for American Indians are very complex, complicated, and heavily researched in American Indian scholarship. While this topic could be a dissertation itself,

I aim to point out some fundamental research pertaining to American Indian identity and identity formation. Circe Sturm (2002) in Blood Politics: Race, Culture and Identity in


the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, explores the concepts of race, blood quantum, and identity in the Cherokee Nation. The purpose of the book is to “examine how Cherokee identity is socially and politically constructed and how that process is embedded in ideas of blood, color, and race that permeate the discourses of social belonging in the United

States” (2002, p. 2). Strum explores Cherokee identity through historical and ethnographic accounts and highlights how “racial” classification by the federal government has affected the Cherokee (and all Indigenous) community internally and externally. A focus of her work is “how racial ideologies are constructed and then filter from the national level to the local level, where they are simultaneously internalized, reproduced, manipulated, and resisted in different ways in various Cherokee communities” (2002, p. 2), all important issues that Cherokee, Indigenous communities, and America mainstream face today.

Using the Cherokee story mixed with her own experience and historical information, Sturm pays particular attention to the symbol of blood. Her ethnographic and ethnohistorical work brings light to the contemporary theories of race, nationalism, and social identity regarding what it means to be “Cherokee” and/or “Indian.” She raises important questions about the symbolic significance of indexical markers of Cherokee identity including blood ancestry, phenotype, social behavior, language, religious knowledge and participation, and community residence and participation (2002, p. 110).

Using all of these factors she examines how Cherokee identity is socially and politically construed in the concept of blood, color, and race. Since an important question in

Sturm’s work is “how far can the degree of blood connection stretch and still carry a

170 sense of legitimacy?” she identifies the danger posed to Cherokee (and all Indigenous communities) sovereignty if the federal government continues to recognize Cherokee people on a racial basis. To answer her overall question of “what makes a person

‘Indian?’” she examines “the impact of racial ideologies on Native American identity politics, including how race serves as a basis for the exclusion or inclusion of mixed bloods within tribal communities” (2002, p. 3).

Since Blood Politics could successfully be a template for other Indigenous nations, it raises important questions that persist at the center of the American Indian identity formation. 1) How does the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma define its own

“Cherokee” and “Indian” identity and the identity of other Cherokee people?; 2) To what degree can multiracial individuals claim Native American identity and still be considered socially ‘authentic’? (2002, p. 3); 3) What danger is posed to Native American sovereignty and even continuity if the federal government continues to identify Native

Americans on a racial instead of a cultural or more explicitly political basis (2002, p. 3);

4) Who is Indian? How do we know? Who gets to decide?; and, 5) Identity – is it simply blood, is it culture, is it language, is it political, or social? What makes a person


By answering these questions, Strum provides evidence of identity formation and classification within the Cherokee nation: “Cherokee is the five indices of identity that I have discussed—phenotype, social behavior, language, religion, and residence—to define the racial and social boundaries of their community and to socially classify other

Cherokees into categories of identity other than just Cherokee or Indian” (2002, p. 136).


Strum talks about how “phenotype” is important to the Cherokee nation. She tells the story of two outsiders who visit a Cherokee church social. One woman looks “more”

Native than the other and a Cherokee woman states to the lighter one, “Well, you look like you could have some Indian blood in you, but not much.” And then she turns to the other one with long dark hair and says, “But you, how much Cherokee are you? I bet you’re about one-quarter, right?” The “darker” one then admits that she may be one sixty-forth. Then, the Cherokee woman raises her eyes in surprise which suggests she is pretty sure she has more Indian blood in her (2002, p.113). Sturm goes onto to talk about how different Cherokees view “Cherokeeness” in various ways. She uses another example of a full-blood Cherokee woman who was “socialized” in the traditional

Cherokee way, shunned for going to school, and later ostracized for marrying an

“outsider.” She had four children but only identified two as being Cherokee due to their looks and behaviors. This exemplifies the various ways in which Cherokee identity is formed and related to blood, race, and socialization .

Similarly to Strums discussion around social behavior, language, religion, and residence, Holm, Pearson, and Chavez’s Peoplehood Model illustrates how a people’s language, sacred history, place/territory, and ceremonial cycle intertwine, interpenetrate, and interact, to the point where one cannot function properly without the others hence, in a sense, forming an identity (2003). Thus, identity can be a form of resistance and a celebration of life, land, and culture. During the 1980s, Robert K. Thomas began work on a perceptive and encompassing view of group identity, where he chose the term

“peoplehood” to transcend the notions of statehood, nationalism, gender, ethnicity, and

172 religious affiliation. His work built on Edward H. Spicer’s definition of cultural enclaves, or what Thomas called “enduring peoples”, where human groups were the direct result of colonialism and identified as having distinct languages, religions and territories that the colonizer sought to destroy or claim for themselves, and Castle and Kushner’s (1981) notion that as enclaves these “persistent people” differentiate from the generally understood definitions of ethnicity in pluralist societies and natural states. Thomas defined peoplehood to include language, sacred history, religion, and land (Holm et al.,

2003, p. 11-13). Thomas and Spicer were foundational in identifying not only the notion that groups of human beings constitute various peoples, but also how the characteristics of peoplehood link together. Holm, Pearson, and Chavez (2003) aimed at refining

Thomas’s and Spicer’s notion of peoplehood to serve as a disciplinary matrix, where its universality to all Native American groups could function as primary theoretical approach in Indigenous peoples studies for questions of identity.

Acquiring an identity is a key component in the socialization process through which people effectively attain knowledge and skills to participate in the social activities of a particular community. In order for a people to retain a sense of identity and connection to all of creation, all four components must work together in a systemic model

(Holm et al., 2003). Although Holm, Pearson, and Chavez’s (2003) work is integrative in the sense that they understand that dynamic interrelationships are essential to identity formation for Indigenous individuals and groups, they fail to include the very important variable of family and relatives, also classified as kinship. Kinship is critical to identity formation for American Indian people; kin terms are central for classifying relatives, but

173 even more importantly, each pair of relationships is specified in terms of culturally defined patterns of rights and obligations, proper behaviors, and attitudes or emotions.

These “social usages,” are fundamentally important features of a kinship system

(DeMallie 1998, p. 322). The relation of kinship to other social components of society is important for seeing beyond the individual to the group, where kinship acts as the most sensitive indicator because it permeates all aspects of social life. In conjunction with marriage and descent patterns, kin terms divide some societies into principal groups or moieties, which are further divided into clans, and in turn into lineages (DeMallie, 1998).

For example, descent groups for some Native American people are referred to as clans.

Every individual is born into the clan of his or her father (in patrilineal systems) or mother (in matrilineal systems), where an individual’s identity is permanently linked to clan membership.

Kinship terms delineate specific patterns of cooperation and relatedness for particular societies. For example, since the Hopi are a matrilineal society, the lineage is carried through the mother’s side. Therefore, for Hopi, kin terms are patterned according to clan membership passed through the mother. Since each individual is related to many clans through descent and marriage, knowing the clan affiliation of another individual provides at least one way of designating that individual by a kin term, with clans being considered the overarching shared component. Kinship patterns, on which an individual’s identity is centered, provide the central relationship and social structure within American

Indian societies.


Language also plays a key role in the socialization process, but is not the only method through which this occurs. Historical, cultural, economic, and spiritual aspects are also prevalent in the socialization process of particular communities. Therefore, in order to understand a sociocultural identity, one must ‘look locally’ and focus both on the details of language and the workings of culture and society in terms of the importance of place, and the impact of displacement (Bucholtz and Hall 2005, p. 586)


For American

Indian people displacement from “place” is a harsh reality and a result of colonization and imperialism. While colonization is the attempt to dispossess Indigenous groups by denying, undermining or attacking their existence as people through the means of territorial dislocation, religious conversation and assimilation, identity cannot be disassociated from these experiences.

Over the past hundred years, with the introduction and implementation of mainstream institutionalized education, indigenous education (and languages) has been pushed aside within the American educational system. Forced assimilation principles were designed to eradicate indigenous culturally specific identities in the field of

American Indian Studies. Scholars have produced a wide array of literature pertaining to the position of American Indian people in mainstream society. A variety of methodological practices, such as individual experience and voice, societal perspectives, congressional acts, and federal Indian policy, have led to the multiple effects on

American Indian identity. In his book The Great Confusion in Indian Affairs (2005),

Holm argues that peoplehood is the underlying reason for Native culture resiliency. In

Lomawaima’s and McCarty’s (2006) To Remain an Indian, the focus is on the socio-

175 cultural and the historical forces underlying what they call the “safety zone.” Philip

Deloria’s (2004) Indians in Unexpected Places argues that although Native people have been identified as anomalous, they were very active in the modernization of this country.

While all four authors approach their texts differently, all lead to the conclusion that although American Indian people have been suppressed by federal Indian policy and racialized through thought and practice, yet their resiliency has allowed them to survive communally, politically, and culturally, thus reinforcing their identity.

Holm states, that “Colonization represses the ability to act without the reference to colonial terminology, paradigms, and symbols” (Holm, 2005, p. xi). Although he writes about the era of assimilation and its structural accommodation, his intent is to show that American Indian people, though faced with the process and effects of colonization, still promoted their cultures and Indigenous identities. Each stage in

Indian-white relationships in the early twentieth century (Progressive era) marks a time of

“ideological conflict and institutional confusion,” therefore leading to the “search for another kind of political order” (Holm, 2005, p. xi). Thus, this confusion in Indian affairs was due not only to white policies dealing with assimilation, but also to Natives’ refusal to assimilate. Through this confusion, white conflicting viewpoints changed throughout time. For example, Native art, music, and intertribal gatherings [I would add athletics to this list], once seen as imperative to “kill” because they were linked to Native savagery, became accepted and appreciated since they were the product of a “vanishing people”; the binary nature of the stereotype gives space for this.


Holm outlines three chronological theoretical frameworks for American society.

The first is known as the “Colonial Phase Model,” which explains the goals of a colonizing state. Holm lays out three stages of this model which lead to the progressive era’s Indian-white relationship: throughout the history of Indian-white relationships there was a great colonial occupation of lands that were held sacred by Indigenous groups, colonial powers sought to gain clear title to these lands by creating boundaries (treaty and reservation stage), and attempted to assimilate or marginalize Native people for either control or a work force. These steps lead to the progressive stage, where the colonial power openly admits to the failure of assimilation and seeks to accommodate, on a limited basis, Native communities still maintaining their senses of peoplehood (Holm,

2005, p. 148).

The second theoretical topic Holm uses is the “search for order,” where the Old

Reformers, such as General Pratt, and the New Generation questioned the validity of the

“Vanishing Indian Policy.” In the 1890s and early twentieth century, conflicting white views of where Natives fit in American society were heightened. Although both believed that Natives were vanishing, the Old Reformers assumed that Native ways of life conflicted in every way with the whites’ and, therefore, Indigenous people needed to be assimilated in order to survive. The New Generation believed that since Natives were no longer a physical threat to white society, they had certain valuable characteristics (art)

[and sport] to offer before they vanished (Holm, 2005, p. 120-123). Due to this change in thought as well as the conflicting white views, the New Generation’s “Preservation

Movement” arose. According to this, Natives were dehumanized in order to be protected

177 and to preserve aspects of their culture. For example, this movement was extremely interested in the retention of Native arts in order to pay homage to the “vanishing” Indian

(Holm 2005, p. 123). To a certain extent, the New Preservationists and Indian Rights

Association sought to maintain an identifiable Native presence in America. For example,

Indians were seen to be naturally physically fit and therefore could promote that being outdoors and living with the environment was healthy and spiritually pure (Holm, 2005 p.

120). This was expressed through the readings on “Indianness” in Boy Scouts’ literature and the “double consciousness” of the American Indian athlete discussed earlier. Here,

Holm argues—and I agree—that both sides were disputing over what was Native people’ best place in American society, not, however, for their actual well-being and the survival of their cultures. This leads to Holm’s third and most important theoretical point that explains how Native people used resistance, persistence, and survival.

Holm argues that throughout this process of control and confusion, Natives refused to let go of their cultures, continued to demand rights, and fought to maintain their spiritual connection to the land and kinship system. Holm’s “Peoplehood Matrix” contends that Native languages, ceremonies, understandings of place and sacred histories are interconnected and inseparable, a holistic model of life. Moreover, it is an integrated system of knowledge and the underlying reason why Native people survived through the various stages of colonization (Holm, 2005, p. xv), since it is the “basis of sovereignty, nationalism, culture and social organization” (2005, p. 1). For example, Holm believes that the greatest resistance to assimilation came from more traditional members of societies; “the resilience of peoplehood does not necessarily lie in the fact that it

178 possesses the four aspects of place, sacred history, ceremonial cycle, and language, but in the intricacy with which these aspects are connected” (Holm, 2005, p. 23). Pratt’s “outing system” for example, and his need to Christianize Native people in order to “uplift” them from savagery, was an idea that aimed at destroying the four elements of peoplehood.

In To Remain an Indian, Lomawaima and McCarty (2006) explain shifts in federal Indian educational policies and practices over the past century through what they label the “safety zone.” The shifts between safe and dangerous aspects of Native people’s lives exemplify the federal ability to guide policy in order to serve particular interests and goals of the time. Similar to Holm, Lomawaima and McCarty focus on

Indian-white relationships in the Progressive era. They argue that each generation was systematically identifying its notion of the safety zone, an area where dangerous aspects of a culture could be domesticated (Lomawaima and McCarty, 2006, p. xxii). By analyzing the shifts in the safety zone theory, they incorporate the perspectives of federal policy, institutional practice, and the individual experiences of Native and non-Native people, similarly to Holm (2006, p. 10).

The authors state that the levels of tolerance are cyclic, depending on the federal

Indian policy of the time and the resistance of Native people. The turn of the 20 th

century was a time when Western society allowed (called for) a very narrow range of Native behavior and life ways; Native children were forced into boarding schools, the

Americanizing institutes of the time (Lomawaima and McCarty, 2006, p. 46). The history of boarding schools and Native education in general represent how federal policy

179 and American society oppressed Native people and disregarded the rights of local choice and control (2006, p. 5).

Native individuals, as well as particular cultural traits or practices, were being fitted into an American “safety zone” of obedient citizenry and innocent cultural difference. Parameters of the safety zone corresponded to relations of power: safe citizens were part of a subservient proletariat, and safe cultural differences were controlled by non-Native federal, Christian, and social agencies that could proclaim themselves benefactors dedicated to “preserving” Native life (2006, p. 49).

Lomawaima and McCarty use the Meriam Report as a focal point in the shift in federal constructions of safe/dangerous differences, because the 1928 document proposed that the federal government should support Native people who chose to “remain an

Indian” (2006, xxiii). During the 1930s and 40’s, boundaries of the safety zone were redrawn, exemplified through the bilingual Life Readers. The Life Readers recognized

Native identity, but again reinforced the boundary lines between the safe and dangerous

Indian-white relationship through “moral lessons” (2006, p. 96). Dubbing American

Indians as “Chief” also reflects the use of a language as a “safe” practice. Throughout their book, the authors discuss Native language as both imperative to Native existence and a threat to the American safety zone to exemplify that language is tied to Native identity, culture, and self-determination.

During each cycle of cultural tolerance, Lomawaima and McCarty look for

“footprints,” which are unexpected traces of Native life and culture during the periods of controlling and domineering policies and institutions. Their concept of footprints is

180 directly tied to the Hopi concept of “footprint” which represents both the physical markers left in a landscape and the emotional and spiritual way of life (Lomawaima and

McCarty, 2006, p. 13). The authors found that during times of turmoil, Native people created windows of opportunity and continued to practice their artwork, language, and ceremony. Although the authors do not mention sport within boarding school settings, athletics were also spaces where Native people could assert their identity. As with

Holm’s peoplehood, the enduring “footprints” exemplify the interconnection of the historical, physical, emotional, and spiritual way of Native life, and how Native people created spaces to assert self-determination.

Similar to Holm (2005) and Lomawaima and McCarty (2006), Deloria’s (2004)

Indians in Unexpected Places focuses on the visibility and position of Native people at the turn of the twentieth century. However, rather than looking at the federal authority and the assimilationist’s strategy, Deloria focuses on whites’ racial and stereotypical assumptions about Native peoples. Rather than tracking policy change, Deloria uses cultural analysis, historical incidents and stories as his methodological approach (2004, p.

12). For example, he states that pacification served to bridge the vanishing-Indian ideology of the nineteenth century with the modernist primitivism of the twentieth century. Pacification served as a linking ideology between the most powerful expectations of the eighteenth and nineteenth century—violence and Indian disappearance—and those of the twentieth century (Deloria, 2004, p. 16). Moreover, the potential for violence had disappeared and pacification deemed Indians as safe (Deloria,

2004, p. 48-50), as seen with the acceptance and popularity of sports in boarding schools.


Here, Deloria uses the concept of the “safety zone” to exemplify that once the Indian was viewed as passive by the white man, he shifted from dangerous/violent to safe, peaceful, and noble.

Using Indians as anomalous beings, Deloria argues that “a significant cohort of

Native people engaged the same forces of modernization that were making non-Indians reevaluate their own expectations of themselves and their society” (2004, p. 6).

Concentrating on the issues of violence, representation, athletics, technology, and music he revisits the actions of Native people that have been identified as anomalous by

American society. Being viewed by whites from violent to pacified, from popular sports icons to forgotten peoples at the turn of the twentieth century, Deloria uses concrete examples and stories to explain how expectations, federal policy, economics, and social relations all blended and that explains the change. Like the athletes who were displaced from arenas due to economic transformations, Native performers were similarly dislodged by parallel cultural shifts, namely whites or Hispanics playing Indians in movies. However, Deloria argues that although American Indian histories disappeared (in

American society), the expectations American Indians created did not.

Like Lomawaima who draws from her family’s experience at Chilocco Indian

Boarding school, Deloria uses personal memory and stories from his grandfather, Vine

Deloria, Sr. Deloria attempts to untangle the legacy of his grandfather by examining his passion for mainstream American sports such as baseball, football, and basketball. As an

Indian athlete in the Progressive era, Deloria, Sr. was a figure living in Indian-white cultures. The author wonders whether attachments to white practices and institutions

182 such as boarding schools, had erased the Indianness from his grandfather and many others like him. Deloria acknowledges that

Indians fit into the nostalgic, anti-modern image of professional and college sports. If athletes in general were emblems of post-frontier masculinity who embodied a reassuring sense of Gemeinschaft, my grandfather and other Indian athletes proved to be even more complex, evocative symbols for White spectators. In the early twentieth centery’s tete-a-tete with cultural primitivism, “Indians” could be objects not simply of racial repulsion but also—as they reflected nostalgia from community, spirituality, and nature – of racial desire (2004, p. 329).

Deloria Sr., along with other Indian athletes of the early twentieth century, was highly cognizant of the new identities—as educated, civilized Americans—he was being asked to assume, and he appreciated how they collided but also colluded with his identity as a Lakota. He understood the new forms of power these new identities might generate, and he also knew that elements of his Indian identity could be staged to generate opportunity. Native athletes enacted a sort of double consciousness, one that was at times empowering, yet often very uncomfortable. The ambivalence of “playing Indian” during this time, in turn, provided opportunities to exploit if not parody the fantasies of those who desired stereotyped exhibitions of Indianness. Native American athletes, as both athletic and cultural performers, became the “cultural trickster” (King, 2005, p. 145).

Gems (2005) highlights an incident where Carlisle students, while beating Dickinson 36-

0 in 1905, filled the chest of a mock Dickinson dummy with arrows after each score.

Such antics add new layers of complexity to the Indian identity as racialized play (p. 13).

Deloria attempts to connect non-Indian expectations with the lived experience of Native people whose actions and positions in mainstream American were seen as unexpected by the general public. He argues that many Indian people leaped into modernity by owning

183 automobiles, starring in films, and becoming prominent athletes. American Indian people who filled up categories formed intellectual, political or cultural roles and communities in mainstream America. These roles had different meanings for the Indian people who played them, and the expectations of them infused by American culture. He urges people to questions the expectations that arose in the nineteenth and twentieth century, as they continue to exemplify racism and oppression of American Indian people (2004, p. 231).

Rather than assimilating, his grandfather, along with other athletes, created a cross-cultural world by fusing cultures and incorporating Indian traditions with American ideals. The beginning of the twentieth century constituted a constant “contact zone” for

American Indian people. Although they helped create a space to assert their identity, they were still in the borders of American rules and power, the “zones” determined by dominant society (Deloria 2004, p.114). However, despite the lack of Native authority, they resisted and maintained their sense of peoplehood. According to Lomawaima and

McCarty, Julian Lang reminds us that ‘ancient knowledge, created by the genius of our ancestors, contains the very essence of our tribal sovereignty.’ If we understand sovereignty as a bundle of society’s inherent human rights to self-government, selfdetermination, and self-education, Lang’s ‘ancient knowledge’… gives sovereign life in the daily world (2006, p. 26).

During a period that aimed at eradicating American Indian peoplehood, athletics and other forms of personal assertion allowed Native people to maintain their identity through indigenizing education without those in power realizing it. American Indian identity and identity formation are grounded in kinship, land, and culture. Yet, American


Indian identity remains fluid as a means to adapt to contemporary education, society, and policy. At the same time, it is essential that American Indian students work within higher education and assert their own identity as American Indian people.

Although the statistics signify the truth and hardships of American Indians within higher education, playing sports offers opportunities for Native peoples to both create and assert their own identities within higher educational institution, both on and off the playing field. This will be discussed in chapters 4 and 5.

V. The Contemporary American Indian Collegiate Athlete Demographics

Barriers to a college education for American Indians have been due to unequal opportunities and discriminatory education practices and policies. Acosta states that

American Indians were the most educationally disadvantaged of all ethnic groups in the nation in the 1970s (1980, p. 52). Moreover, as expressed above, extensive data reveals that American Indians still represent the lowest percentage of any ethnic group in the

United States higher education system (Statistics, Status and Trends in the Education of

American Indians and Alaska Natives, 2011). Although progress has been significant, there are major obstacles that must be overcome before there is true racial or ethnic parity. There are numerous barriers American Indians and tribal communities must confront in locating appropriate colleges, gaining admission, matriculating, and then persisting until graduation. This tells me that there needs to be further research on how to improve both higher education attendance and graduation rates for American Indian students. Moreover, research on factors that inform American Indian students about college, as well as keeping them there long enough to graduate, is essential. This may

185 indicate that community (school, family) involvement in a child’s preparation and retention in college is needed.

Athletics can serve as a pathway towards accessing higher education for

American Indians and a means to increase higher education enrollment and graduation rates, while lowering drop-out rates. This, in turn, presents the opportunity for a higher income and greater economic opportunities. While sport is a vehicle by which many promising individuals often seek educational or other opportunities, American Indian students are less likely than any other ethnic group in the United States to play a collegiate sport (Table V). The contemporary higher education data regarding American

Indian students reflects the American Indian collegiate athlete experience. In the 1970s, specific data concerning contemporary American Indian collegiate athletes was almost non-existent. Today, the notoriety and figures are unfortunately not much different. For example, in The 2010 Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sport compiled by The

Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, American Indians were not mentioned once in the 67 page document. The report is compiled every year to express both the racial and gender hiring practices of colleges and universities. While the report suggests that college sports made a substantial improvement on racial hiring practices as well as a progress on gender hiring practices, American Indians were once again left out of the equation.

American Indian intercollegiate athletes are also underrepresented and disproportionately low for their percentage of the general population and for students attending college. In 2009-2010 American Indians accounted for only seven-tenths of a percent of athletes (0.3 percent for American Indian men and 0.4 percent for American


Indian women) in all three of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) divisions, indicating that American Indians/Alaskan Natives account for the lowest percentage of student-athletes (Table 3.9). While one would expect low numbers given the American Indian population size in the United States, American Indian collegiate athletes are below parity (0.7 percent versus 1.7 percent). Moreover, given the talent of

American Indian athletes and popularity of sports within Native communities, the numbers are, unfortunately, low. Between 1999 and 2010, both American Indian men and women represented the lowest percentage of student-athletes in NCAA Divisions I, II, and III (Table 3.4 and Table 3.5). In 2010, American Indian men and women represented the lowest numbers (1,534) of student-athletes across all three divisions, while black men and women were the second highest represented (68,256), only behind white women and men (319,517) (Table 3.8). In the 2009-2010, breaking down by gender, there had been only 839 NCAA American Indian male athletes, compared to 46,701 black male athletes and 175,496 white male athletes. That same year there were 695 American Indian female athletes, 21,555 black female athletes, and 144,021 white female athletes (Table 3.8).

Table 3.11, Table 3.12 and Table 3.13 breakdown the frequencies of American Indian male and female athletes by Division I, II and III.

Table 3.11: Division I Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies by Sport (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 105.

Table 3.12: Division II Male/Female Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies for by Sport (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 106.

Table 3.13: Division III Student-Athlete Race/Ethnicity Frequencies by Sport



Source: NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 107.

The largest amount of American Indian athletes play in Division I sports (381 male and 318 female), followed by Division II (286 male, 177 female) and Division III

(172 male, 200 female). Across all three divisions, American Indian men represented the highest numbers in football, with track and field second, cross country third, and baseball fourth. For American Indian women, basketball had the highest number of athletes, while cross-country, track and field, soccer, and softball expressed consistent numbers across all three divisions. Since Division I represent the highest percentage of American Indian

190 athletes, it can be assumed that there are a high number of either full or partial scholarships given to these athletes. Similarly, American Indian athletes at the Division

II level are earning partial scholarships. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not track

(therefore I have been unable to find any) the number of scholarships given by race/ethnicity. Despite the largest number of American Indian athletes at Division I universities, the low numbers across all divisions tells us that limitations and a lack of access to sport in college exist for American Indian students.

VI. American Indian Coaches and Administrators

In 1990, the NCAA began collecting demographic data on each member institution utilizing the NCAA Certification of Compliance Form. Annually the NCAA gathers statistical information regarding the ethnicity and gender demographics. Data for each report is divided into three categories: athletic administrators, head coaches, and assistant coaches. The NCAA Coaching/Administration Tables (3.14 through 3.21) describe the racial and gender breakdown of coaches and administrators. The information provides a general view of recent and historical trends of the following racial and ethnic groups by gender, sport, division, and position. The gender, race, and ethnicity for all coaching and administrative positions within the athletics department were reported for each school. Coaching staff includes both full- and part-time positions and volunteers.

Individuals with multiple administrative or coaching duties are counted for each position.

Therefore, the total percentages reported in the tables reflect the number of positions, not necessarily the total number of individuals.

Table 3.14: Male/Female Head Coaches Overall Positions by Race/Ethnicity and

Sport (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 79.

Table 3.15: Overall Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Head Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Men’s Teams, 2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 81.

Table 3.16: Overall Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Head Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Women’s Teams, 2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 83.

Table 3.17: Male/Female Assistant Coaches Overall Positions by Race/Ethnicity and Sport (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 145.

Table 3.18: Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Assistant Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Men’s Teams, 2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 147.

Table 3.19: Breakdown of Other Minority Male/Female Assistant Coaches by

Race/Ethnicity and Sport (Women’s Teams, 2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 150.

Table 3.20: Overall Male/Female Athletic Administrative Staff Positions by

Race/Ethnicity (2009-2010)


Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 27.


Table 3.21: Overall Percentages of Other Male/Female Athletic Administrative Staff by

Race/Ethnicity (2009-2010)

Source: NCAA Race and Gender Demographics Report 1999-2000 – 2009-2010, p. 29.

Not only are American Indian student-athletes underrepresented in intercollegiate athletics, American Indian head coaches (Table 3.14, Table 3.15, and Table 3.16), assistant coaches (Table 3.17, Table 3.18 and Table 3.19), and administrative staff positions (Table 3.20 and Table 3.21) are seen in low numbers. In 2009-2010, racial and ethnic minority men and women saw the largest increases in head and assistant coaches, in administrative assistants, academic advisor/counselor, and business manager and compliance officer/coordinator since the base year (Table 3.14). Although there was an increase, whites continue to dominate the head coaching ranks on men’s teams, holding


72.6 percent of all head coaching positions in Division I, II, and III, combined. African

Americans held 5.0 percent in all divisions (Table 3.14).

Likewise on the women’s teams, whites held 85 percent of coaching positions in all three divisions, while African Americans held 8.5 percent of all head coaching positions in all three divisions (Lapchick, 2010, p. 5). Only 0.7 percent of all head coaching positions for men’s teams were people of color, excluding African American’s

(.07 percent American Indian/Alaska Native, 0.8 percent Asian, 1.3 percent for

Hispanic/Latino and 0.8 for Native Hawaiian) (Table 3.15). For women’s teams,

American Indian/Alaska Natives held 0.1 percent of head coaching positions in all three divisions, while Asian head coaches made up 1.3 percent, Hispanic/Latino made up 1.5 percent, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander comprised 0.3 percent of all head coaching positions (Table 3.16). The assistant coach and administrative demographics similarly express the dominant numbers of white and African American positions in all three divisions. American Indian/Alaska Natives only make up 0.1 percent of assistant coaches for men’s teams and 0.1 percent for women’s teams in all three divisions (Table 3.18 and

Table 3.19). For all administrative positions, American Indian/Alaska Natives only held

0.2 percent of Division I, II, and III positions (Table 3.21).

VII. American Indian Collegiate Athletes: Looking Forward

Although racial and ethnic minorities in administrative and coaching positions have increased over the past seven years, there is a relatively low percentage of American

Indian administrative staff and head and assistant coaches compared to other minorities, especially Black and Hispanic/Latino. The low numbers of American Indian

200 administrative and coaching staff affects the access gap American Indians face within every athletic facet of higher educational institutions. With the low percentages of

American Indian athletes in combination with the lack of literature and scholarship representing the American Indian collegiate athlete experience, American Indian athletes in light seem somewhat invisible within the sports world. The narratives in the following two chapters, however, tell a different story. Although the current statistics in collegiate sport continue to make the American Indian collegiate athlete insignificant, American

Indian athletes are pursuing sport in college and earning degrees through the motivation of sport. The ten narratives in the next two chapters express that although American

Indian collegiate athletes are small in numbers, they are pervasive in their love for sport as a means to earn an education and give back to their communities.




The narratives in this and the next chapter are the voices of ten talented and inspiring American Indian male and female collegiate athletes. From various tribal communities, they all share a similar story in utilizing sport as a means to access higher education. The athletes illustrate how to make dreams come true and still stay connected to family and heritage which are part of their inner strength and identity. In every case, their dreams were nurtured by family, friends, and coaches, or a combination of supporters. Each of these stories begins with an aspiration, a vision, and a desire. Each athlete sets both athletic and educational goals and proceeds to achieve them despite obstacles, setbacks, and resistance. For all, a major source of their inner strength has been their Native heritage. Whether this strength was foundational in their success in sport or found through giving back to community, their Native identity is prevalent through their journey as student-athletes.

Often, there were many adversities to be overcome; proving success is the embodiment of talent and perseverance. All these athletes have used their success and experience to be a force for good in their own communities or for Native people in general. Their journeys promote opportunities for Native youth through organizations, programs or affiliations that have opened the door for Native people in sport and education. Their stories will express that, in giving back, these athletes have come full circle, for they are nurturing a new generation with the potential to achieve even more.


The mere act of playing sports offers many benefits displayed by these athletes.

The physical activity involved helps prevent issues of obesity, diabetes, and other health related problems that are pervasive among Native people. The guidance, direction, and self-discipline provided by sports foster self-esteem and a source of empowerment through goal setting and achievement. Time spent in athletics fosters social interaction and development, which means less time spent in bored isolation or destructive behaviors such as alcohol use, gang association, and violence. These stories not only epitomize the importance of playing sport, but the role sport plays in creating positive role-models for future generations. These stories are the words of athletes who have given their sweat, time, and perseverance to provide sources of encouragement to Native and non-Native people alike. I am grateful and deeply appreciate them sharing their journeys.

I. Juwan Nuvayokva: “Nahongvita, making self stronger. Dig down and find that fire and desire to fight through pain and succeed. Race together, stay as a pack, and finish strong.


I identify myself as being Native American from the Hopi tribe, which is huge, and is something I have never failed to mention everywhere I go. I always use my identity as being Native American. Graduating from the

University, I think that gives you a different identity, people are looking at you different, people thinking of you different just because you did something beyond graduating, which a lot of Native Americans don’t do or attempt to do. I always take pride in where I come from, who I am as far as being Hopi and Native American.

As a thirty-two year old Hopi man from the Village of Old Oraibi on Third Mesa in Northeastern Arizona, Juwan’s passion for running began long before he started participating in high school track and cross-country meets. Running is a traditional medicine in Hopi culture, engrained in the history, language, and ceremonies of daily life.


“Running is a big part of Hopi culture. We [Hopi] believe it is in our blood, we are born to run. We compare it to the movie Apocalyptical, where you are practically surviving, running for [your] life-and that is a big deal in Hopi. Surviving. And that is a part of our culture, and we survived.”

Growing up in a very rural community, sport was something that kept Juwan busy during the summer and after school. “The people I grew up with, or hung around with, we actually did do a lot of sports. We kind of gathered other people just to play a game of baseball with what we had or soccer or football game in the village I grew up in.” At the age of ten, he was already playing soccer and basketball. Running was just something he picked up along the way. He recalled that running was:

Just the self-enjoyment and knowing that you have a little bit of talent for everything, baseball, soccer, basketball, running, volleyball, everything.

That kind of motivates you. And some of [the] rewards were just self- fulfillment and being a part of a team. And then of course, the other things that come with it, the ribbons, medals, awards, things that the more you get, the more satisfied you become.

Positive reinforcement was critical and helped Juwan continuing to strive to be better, to push himself to the next level. Sport enhanced Juwan’s life both mentally and physically. A thoughtful, reflexive individual, Juwan had often considered the multiple benefits sport had to offer him as his chosen path in life, as well as give him practice in

Euro-American traits that would be of benefit later in life:

The more I found out about being competitive, that was one of the influences, the competitiveness, where you want to stay in shape and in a way not sounding cocky but you want to be better and good at something.

And the other part is observing other people’s habits of obesity and things like that and you look at yourself and you do self-reflection and say ‘man I don’t want to be this person who is obese and I don’t want to be this

204 person who has diseases’. You just kind of think about yourself and put yourself in their situations.

Juwan’s competitive nature, respect for his body, and discipline provided insight into both the poor quality of life among his people and a desire to stay healthy to further enable himself to actively compete in sports. Such holistic thinking is common among the

Hopi and reflects their views about culture and traditional maintenance within and throughout the “western” world. His views are similar to Hopi running legend, Louis

Tewanima, who became a national and international household name in the early 20 th century. Tewanima won numerous races and earned the opportunity to compete in the

1908 and 1912 Summer Olympic Games, winning Silver in the 10,000 meter 1912

Stockholm games. Tewanima’s story exemplifies his ability to redefine Hopi running in the twentieth century and shows how he maneuvered through American and European perceptions of Natives and sports. Juwan and Louis Tewanima originated from a people who understands running as an integral part of their social and religious culture.

According to Hopi belief, men ran footraces to unify their villages, gain information from other clans, and prepare them for life’s challenges. Hopi considered running a trustworthy form of transformation, imperative to both physical and spiritual growth. Hopi ran as an expression of their identity (Gilbert, 2012, pg. 333). As members of an agriculturist society, Hopi runners covered distances that far exceeded American marathons in order tend to their fields. Most importantly, they ran to bring rain to their dry fields, which they depended on for daily sustenance and survival. Similarly to

Tewanima, Juwan was taught the importance of rain and its connection with running at

205 an early age and that Hopi men had the responsibility to run great distances in order to benefit their people and land.

Although Juwan did not begin running competitively until high school, he always knew that as a Hopi, his running stemmed from his culture. While he did not have any

“athletic” role models growing up, besides the legendary stories of Louis Tewanimia, both his mother and his maternal uncles offered guidance and discipline, often through stories. In the Hopi community, as with many Native communities, life lessons and teachings are passed down through words and stories. According to the late Hopi elder and historian Emory Sekaquaptewa, “words have a ‘home’ in the context of culture—in the course of daily activities, in social institutions such as naming and marriage activities; they have meaning within these contexts” (as in Nicholas, 2009, pg.31). When one speaks and understands Hopi, he understands what has happened in the past, what is currently occurring in the present, and can instill values and proper behavior for future generations. Juwan’s mother suggested he run in high school in order to elicit proper behavior, stay out of trouble [gangs and alcoholism were beginning to appear at Hopi], and experience the physical and spiritual importance of running. He followed her advice and discovered he had true talents. “Back then, you heard all kinds of stories about running tradition, and I thought to myself, ‘man I could really do something with this.’”

His insight proved to be correct; Juwan won six Arizona State titles, three in crosscountry and three in track. He also served as a role model. Since his participation, the

Hopi High School has won 23 consecutive state titles in cross-country.


Running was not the only activity Juwan excelled in during his high school years.

“To be honest I never knew that I had straight As and I did graduate as class

Valedictorian. I never tried to be Valedictorian or never attempted to have good grades.

It just came natural. Like running it disciplines you and coming from [a] disciplined family, [a] traditional family you just had to do what was asked of you.”

Although he was successful both athletically and academically, Juwan never thought about attending college, let alone running at the collegiate level. It was not until

Rick Baker, his high school coach, began talking with him about opportunities after he graduated that continuing his education became a possibility. “I honestly never thought I was going to college. I never knew NAU existed in Flagstaff until Ron Mann came to visit me. I had no intentions of competing collegiately and from there they opened my eyes and I said, ‘Hey, maybe I will try something different’ and I ended up at NAU.”

Juwan attributes his collegiate running career to both his high school and collegiate coach, the special effort they made to help him, and how the techniques they used— coming to him and giving advice but letting him make his own decisions—mirrored the manner in which his mother’s brother (the authoritarian figures in a matrilineal society) approached him. This assertion of individual interest in him as a person was critical for his success.

Ron Mann, the head cross country coach at NAU Northern Arizona, he is the one that came to visit me. I never knew my talents were that great and he told me I belonged in Division I, not junior college. He told me that I was Division I material. I didn’t understand at the time that, I guess, he meant the highest level of college competition.


As a six time high school state champion, Juwan received phone calls from other schools, but he noticed none of the scouts were willing to travel to the reservation to recruit him. This was a very important factor in his decision of where to attend college.

He has reflected on this circumstance and has attributed it to stereotyping behaviors and presumptions about Indian performance that overgeneralized him.

Being Native American, from the stories you hear from the past, they

[Anglo-Americans] thought we were weak or we never finish. I don’t think they took that chance on phone calls and letters. But Ron Mann did have experience with Native Americans and so he did come out and visit me. It was a drive for him and that was the only recruitment I would say I got. I don’t believe in the letter recruitment or just a phone call. To me he really took [an] interest [in me] and it showed me that he really wanted me to do something or recruit [me].

To Juwan, recruitment was a symbol of the type of coaching he would receive if he attended the college. His coach would inevitably become a role model, teacher, and disciplinarian figure, just as his uncles were growing up. This commitment from a coach was important to Juwan’s decision-making process, where he found comfort in the face-to-face interaction, like he had growing up. This was an essential marker of appreciation from the outside world for the Hopi.

Juwan ended up running cross-country and track at Northern Arizona University

(NAU) from 1997 to 2002. NAU is a Division I NCAA university, located in Flagstaff, only an hour and a half from his home community. The distance was important—it is the closest university to the Hopi Mesas and the proximity allowed Juwan to go home more often than if he had gone to a more distant university—as the old problem of the distant boarding school still exists for tightly knit families and clans. Although he was offered an athletic scholarship, he opted to leave that money for another potential teammate. He

208 instead received funding from the Hopi tribe that covered books, tuition, and a monthly stipend.

The close proximity also allowed Juwan to give back to his community for their monetary support. “I was asked to do some graduation speeches and some college experience seminars,” which he did. But he also did more, “I did go home a lot and do my traditional ceremonies.” Despite his demanding athletic and academic schedule,

Juwan found time to continue his relationships and responsibilities while away from his natal home. He found a balance that might have not been possible had he been further from home. Juwan describes college as “the best years of my life.” These best years also meant opening new horizons and new opportunities. He goes on to explain that “running exposed me to different nationalities, different people, different backgrounds and then travelling which I really enjoy. I was fortunate and lucky to be a part of something good.”

Juwan continues to express how running impacted his college experience as a whole.

It really disciplined me. Of course in college you have deadlines, things to do; there was mandatory study hall, practicing. You have to wake up for morning practice, going to bed [early]. Of course in college you hear all these stories about [how] people party, staying out late and things like that, and it is something that was really great for me because I didn’t get caught up in the scene and never touched alcohol or drugs in my life. It just really kind of disciplined me for better for life and accomplishing and finishing college. You have some teammates that don’t finish at all and that amazes you. Wow, they dropped and why would they do that? They paid so much money. And all these things come to mind that you just think about.

Juwan attributes his matriculation and graduation with a Bachelors of Science in health education to his role as a student athlete. “He [Juwan’s coach] always told us that we

209 were students first. They used the term student athlete. And we had academic advisors who every year made sure we were on track for graduation. So we had people there watching us and our coach really did preach to us that we were there as students first.”

When asked if he ever thought about dropping out of college, Juwan responded,

It does cross your mind but I think your mind is more powerful than that.

You wonder about the people that did drop out of college and then you wonder about yourself. There are times when you feel like the world is just crushing on you and you just want to give up but you sleep on it and the next day you regroup and you are ready to go again. Like I said, it

[running] really disciplined you to reach deadlines.

Discipline proved to be a driving force behind Juwan’s accomplishments. He became an NCAA Division I All-American.

To be a NCAA All-American is a really huge accomplishment, especially at the Division I level which means being one of the top 25 runners in the

United States for Division I, which I always say includes Georgetown, U of A, Oregon, Alabama, Stanford, things like that. To be able to compete with those people coming from a smaller Division I school is a really big accomplishment. And then in Track winning a ten thousand meter title, that is a really big accomplishment and then of course it’s just being on the team itself is a really big accomplishment and finishing five years of collegiate competition.

For Juwan, it was not simply his identity as an athlete that motivated him to compete in college and finish his degree; his cultural upbringing also had an impact on his ability to achieve the goals he set for himself. While attending NAU, Juwan was away from his

Hopi community, yet was guided by his Hopi way of knowing and knew how to behave and act according to Hopi values of reciprocity. For him, the agricultural orientation of

Hopi culture provides a metaphor and guiding principles for human behavior.

[The] teachings and like for us [Hopi] planting corn you have to finish what you are doing, you don’t give up on your crops so I think part of that discipline comes into play where you always have to finish what you are

210 doing. Like I mentioned about the planting season, you just don’t plant and leave the plants there. You’ve got to finish them [i.e., water and weed] and harvest them and [these practices] just come into a lot of cultural ties also. The corn plants, ceremonies, you always have to finish what you attempt, and a lot of it comes with discipline and knowing your responsibilities and roles as a human being. It does, being Hopi does help with your successes.

The Hopi way of life is a journey immersed in experiencing spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and materially “the good things of life”: health, happiness, family, and sustenance. These values are rooted in Hopi cornfields, where corn exemplifies not only the stages of life, but also the very basis of Hopi existence and survival (Nicholas, 2009, pg.30). Hopi ceremonies and cultural activities reflect the agricultural calendar of planting in the spring, growing in the summer, harvesting in the fall, and lying dormant in the winter. Central to ceremonial prayer is bringing winter snow and summer rain to provide moisture to the dry farming. Corn is incorporated into every aspect of Hopi life and is planted and nurtured similarly to raising a family or reaching a goal. Juwan incorporated his experience of planting corn to his life as a runner, and knew that hard work, dedication, and prayer were essential to his success.

Juwan is also well aware of the sacrifices he made as a Native collegiate athlete not living in his home community. The first is social networks and and the inability to engage in face-to-face reactions on a daily basis. This is a problem faced by any student who attends college away from home, but it is a topic that looms large for Native students. “Oh, yes, so many sacrifices. Friends [are] one of them. Culture is one of the big ones. Family and just getting to know other people. You’re committed and always categorize it as a job, being in athletics. So I did make a lot of sacrifices with socializing,

211 culture the big one and family. But I always realized it is always going to be there once I get my years out of the way. It will all come back to me.” Hopi culture and social life are alive, something that one does and in which one actively participates.

Juwan is also aware of the responsibility he carries as a Native collegiate athlete.

There were two other American Indians on his team, but only “four or five of us in the


I think the biggest one [responsibility] is portrayal. The Native American being categorized as alcoholic, dropping out, weak in the mind, things like that. And just the coach trusting you and believing in you is one of the biggest aspects but from there I think it is really nothing on them, that’s just one of the biggest challenges that I mentioned before.

Juwan felt pressure and judgment not only from his non-Native teammates, but also from fellow Native students around campus. His responsibilities entailed being under the spotlight, like a celebrity, and this generated some pressures. One was the lack of privacy and people’s insatiable curiosity. “I think being with the team as a Native, uh, they asked a lot of questions, they were curious, there were cultural things and they were interested in. You kind of got portrayed [by other Natives] as being different because you made it. It is something you feel bad about too.” Juwan is speaking here of standing out. This is not a positive value in Hopi society, which is community-centered and where prominence is seen as individualistic and bragging, even if the person does not seek out or desire the attention. And Juwan did not. Moreover, he experienced how ignorance is still prevalent on college campuses; he had to spend a good deal of his time educating, or trying to educate. He understands what Edward Spicer has called cultural blindness, which is the inability of politically dominant people to see subordinate nations, ethnic minorities, and

212 disenfranchised people in an ordinary or equal lens. Cultural blindness continues to deny groups of people their distinct cultures and histories, while stigmatizing or romanticizing them as objects (Parezo, 2000, pg. 48). “Just being portrayed different and I don’t think it was meant to be racial. It was just people weren’t literate about Indian culture or life.

They asked, ‘do you live in teepees?’ which is always a common question but they just never were exposed to other tribes. I was never exposed to their backgrounds so I never took it as being racial.” Juwan was very insightful in analyzing this cross-cultural interest in difference and also well-balanced in his response to Anglo-American ignorance. He was also self-confident enough in his own identity not to take this personally.

Additionally, he noted that Native athletes or local celebrities in any endeavor have to deal with cultural difference and unconscious ethnic stereotyping that non-Native athletes never even think about. He has to be a cultural diplomat and culture broker and he is always on call to perform these services for his Native community, and indeed for all Native Americans. Luckily, Juwan was grounded in his Hopi culture and did not let the mental or physical demands of being a Native college athlete detour him from his goals.

After graduation, the Saukina Shoe Company sponsored Juwan as a professional runner. As an endorsed athlete, Juwan runs races while getting paid to participate wearing the Saukina brand. Although he cannot earn a living solely as a professional runner, his talent offered him the opportunity to continue his running career as well as shine as a role model for his community. Juwan has taken his passion for running back to his people and implemented running programs to promote the importance of sport not only as a fun

213 activity, but also as a health intervention. He is a teacher at Hopi High School, and cocoaches high school boys cross country with Rick Baker, his old high school coach, as well as junior high school track. His hope is to provide his students with guidance and the understanding that both college and sport are important. He has become a mother’s brother in these endeavors and he uses storytelling as a way of educating. He expresses the importance of the Nahongvita to his runners: “Nahongvita, making self stronger. Dig down and find that fire and desire to fight through pain and succeed. Race together, stay as a pack, and finish strong. Nahongvita.”

I think they [athletes] need people with experience to promote this to students, to share their stories. For me and Rick Baker (who also ran at a collegiate level), we share a lot of these stories with the kids. I think a lot of it is just sharing, wanting other kids to succeed, wanting individuals to succeed and just a lot of encouragement.

In order for more Native athletes to compete at the college level, a shared responsibility must exist.

It goes two ways, the college can recruit more and the student needs to attempt it more themselves. I mean, heck, we win state titles left and right in running and then Rez teams win basketball titles but they just don’t take it to the next level. A lot of it might have to do with size and going to the next level, being Native Indian size is a factor also, we are tinier. I think biomechanics, families, opportunity, background, finances, so everything just limits us.

Juwan has taken it to the next level. Four years ago, he started the Hopi 10K, 5K, for both recreation and to promote healthy lifestyles. “That is what I believe in and the sport of running. And then I try to make it fun where we can award different age groups, different awards, we give out things from sponsors that people can enjoy and take pride in. We try a lot.” He also started a relay run with three categories for the youth, middle

214 aged, and elderly people in order to include and accommodate everybody from the community. “I think it [sport] teaches you a lifelong goal of loving something and keeping physically active or constantly working at your body. It does teach you a lot of discipline and respect for your body as far as what you take, as far as food and things like that. It teaches you a lot.” Juwan believes that running in college has helped him maintain a healthy lifestyle. “I think if I hadn’t run in college I probably would have stopped running a long time ago. Just being there and participating in it and then of course Steve Prefontaine says, ‘if you have something great you have to carry on, to sacrifice a gift is to sacrifice anything less than your best.’” Juwan continues to run and serve as an advocate for health and education through sport. His journey exemplifies the importance of not only hard work and dedication, but also of gaining strength from culture, family, and community.

II. Vincent Littleman:I obey the rules. I do what my elders say. If you get involved in drinking and alcohol it holds you back. I’ve never gotten involved in these things because I want to play sports and look where it has gotten me.

Baseball has given me a future and is a stepping-stone. It has always led me to do the right thing and know what’s right and what’s wrong. I feel like I’m a good role model because I make good decisions.”

On June 25, 2012, Vincent Littelman’s childhood dream came true as he became an NCAA, Division I Baseball World Series Champion. With winning the most games of any University of Arizona baseball team since 1989, Littleman and the Wildcats headed to Omaha, Nebraska, at the end of May to compete at the NCAA Regionals, and then

Super Regionals, where wins led to the College World Series. For the first time since

2004, the Wildcats, including Littleman, the only Native American on the baseball team, headed back to Arizona with championship status. Playing baseball in college and being a

215 part of a collegiate team was a dream Vincent aspired to as a young boy. As a national champion, Vincent knows his hard work and dedication to baseball and school paid off, and that he serves as a role model for Native youth who aspire to reach their own goals.

Raised on the Navajo Reservation in Leechee, Arizona, Vincent is from the

Tl’izilani’ and Tsinaajiinii clans and for the Honaghaahnii and To’dichi’iinii clans. A

2009 graduate of Page High School in Page, Arizona, he was recruited as a left-handed pitcher to play baseball for the University of Arizona. Situated within the exterior boundaries of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the Navajo Nation covers 25,000 square miles. There are approximately 225,000 members of the Navajo Nation, making it the largest federally recognized American Indian tribe in the United States. Vincent chose to attend school in a border town because it offered both better academics and athletics.

Vincent’s older brother had also graduated from Page and was offered a scholarship to play at a junior college in Arizona. Vincent looked up to his brother and intended to follow his path. “Originally, I planned on going to a junior college and getting started there…but U of A recruited me kind of late in my senior year [of high school] and offered me a ball scholarship, so I took it,” said Vincent, describing his journey to

Tucson. Now, as a junior in college, Vincent knows he would probably have not attended college were it not for his active participation in sports. However, sports opened doors and provided opportunities because he worked hard at it and enjoyed it. Baseball was a motivating factor physically, emotionally, and academically.

Growing up with a glove in one hand, a basketball in the other, while kicking a soccer ball around, Vincent had been introduced to sport at a very young age. “Probably

216 four, I don’t remember what sport I started out with, but my parents wanted me to play sports. They wanted me to do something besides just laying around, so they put me in sports, and I’ve been playing ever since,” remembers Littleman of his upbringing. The most basic principle of Navajo healing and life is hozho, or “harmony,” “order,”

“beauty.” The Navajo creation story teaches a universal harmony brought to the “Earth

Surface People” by the Navajo Holy People and which Earth Surface People must work very hard to maintain. Using language, songs, prayers, and rituals the Holy People created this world and everything in a state of hozho. Words, songs, and prayers express the importance of sa’ah naaghaii bike’eh hozho, to seek a long life by living in a state of beauty and harmony in order to gain and experience knowledge (Davies, 2001). An integral aspect of hozho, or “Walking in Beauty” is activity, where a person’s physical actions directly affect the mind and body. In the Navajo world view, everything in life is connected and influences everything else. A stone thrown into a pond can influence the life of a deer in the forest, a human voice and a spoken word can influence events around the world, and all things possess spirit and power. Navajos make every effort to live in harmony and balance with everyone else. This belief system sees sickness as a result of things falling out of balance, of losing one’s way on the path of beauty. According to this view, religion and medicine are one and the same. Therefore, taking care of one’s body influences the health and well-being of the whole community. This summarizes the idea of the controlled integration of all forces, good and evil, natural and supernatural, in a harmonious and natural world. Gary Witherspoon describes a Navajo in pursuit of hozho as an individual who embraces “the intellectual notion of order, the emotional state of

217 happiness, the physical state of health, the moral condition of good, and the aesthetic dimension of harmony” (1987, pg. 7). For Vincent, sport served as a complement to

hozho and his ability to maintain health and balance.

When you play a sport, you have to be in good physical condition and the key to being a good athlete is being strong and being healthy with your diet. We have a strength coach that teaches us how to eat and what food is good for our body…I have learned a lot from my strength coach, so once I get out of college, it will definitely help me. Increasing your physical activity definitely boosts everything in life. You’ll have more energy, your emotions will be better, you won’t be down in the dumps, and sport is a good way to increase your self-esteem.

These insights go well with Navajo conceptions of the body, but unfortunately many people are no longer following their dictates. As a result of governmental policies, historical trauma, unhealthy food choices and poverty, the prevalence of disease, crime and unemployment rates have become common around the reservation. Despite these negative factors, Vincent saw baseball as a motivating factor to excel in school.

In high school, Vincent maintained a 3.5 GPA and while attending the University of Arizona he had both academic advisors and tutors to help keep his grades on track.

“Staying ahead of my studies was probably my number one priority because if I didn’t study or if I didn’t do any school work then I would get bad grades and I wouldn’t play.

He [Vincent’s baseball coach] wants us to put school before baseball, because in reality, we are here to get a degree.” With an agricultural business, economic and management major, Vincent strives for excellence both on the baseball diamond and in the classroom.

After his baseball career, Vincent hopes to one day own a business and possibly “bring business to the rez.” His successes in juggling school and baseball landed him a prestigious academic award in athletics in 2010. Although Vincent’s ultimate goal is to

218 play professional baseball, he values the importance of obtaining an education. “Being a student comes before athlete and that means you put your study before athletics. I like to think of myself as a scholar because baseball and other sports are not lifelong activities, but receiving an education is. Once you have received knowledge, it cannot be taken away and will aid you toward success. So, I put my studies before anything else.”

Coming from a rural and agriculturally based lifestyle, Vincent feels that getting a degree in agricultural business will not only help his community, but also provide him with the means to offer his services to it.

Although Vincent has little time to participate in Native American extra-curricular events on campus due to his demanding baseball and school schedule, he is still a role model for fellow Native students at the University of Arizona. “He’s Native, and it’s not too often that you see a Native student a part of a sports team at the UA,” said avid

Wildcats baseball fan Chelsea Bighorn, U of A senior and a member of the Assiniboine,

Sioux, and Shoshone Paiute tribes. Attributing his successes so far to hard work on his end but also to the efforts of a network of people around him, Littleman said his family has always been his number one supporter. “I talk to my parents every day. They tell me just to stick it out. When I talk to my aunties and uncles, they always tell me not to let the negative things [that] people [say] bring me down.” Vincent is also grateful for the financial support that the Navajo Nation has provided him within college, and he believes that representing his people well on the baseball diamond is a good way to honor them.

“Right now I feel like I represent my nation, I feel like I represent my people.” As the only American Indian collegiate athlete on campus, Vincent does not want non-Native

219 people obtaining a bad impression of his people. “I want my first impression to a non-

Native to be something positive because [then] their view towards other Natives will be good. Every person and everyone represent the nation and our people and when other non-Natives think of Navajos I want them think of hard working people that have a drive immeasurable. For example, determination, passion, and toughness.”

Vincent rooms with a few of his team members and is very close with his team, which has proven to be a family away from home. “I had to sacrifice a lot of things to be where I’m at, but it’s ok because I wouldn’t change this in for anything,” Littleman said with a smile, as he remembered playing baseball on the Navajo reservation as a child.

“The biggest sacrifice I make on a daily basis is time. I miss time with some of my friends, miss time with my family, and other fun activities. I only get to go home for a little before I have to come back to baseball and school. Even though it’s a big sacrifice because the time lost is not given back, I believe I have learned a lot from it. I learned to manage my time and appreciate life, and time with family and friends.” Vincent believes the sacrifice is worth it, as he aspires to follow in the footsteps of his role model, Jacoby

Ellsbury of the Boston Red Socks, the first Navajo man to reach the major leagues.

Although Vincent does not personally know Ellsbury, “I can get an idea of who he is…I think he is tough because of how successful he is. That success wasn’t handed to him, he had to work very hard and make uneasy sacrifices, which I can relate to. I want to be just like that. Not only in athletics, but life too.” Winning a National Collegiate

Championship is a major step in achieving his ultimate goal of playing professional baseball. “After college it would definitely be a dream to get drafted and continue my

220 career in playing baseball. If I don’t get drafted I can fall back on plan B, which is to get into a field where my degree applies…and maybe coach in the future.” Whatever the outcome, he is reminded of how fortunate he is to be able to attend college as a result of baseball.

This game has afforded Vincent more than just the possibility of a baseball career; his positive outlook on sport and education enables him to offer guidance to others. “The community [Navajo] can try to motivate student athletes to go to college…to encourage them and tell them that, you know, they can play at the next level, they can play the sport they love in college. But in reality, it is up to the athlete. They really need to stay in school and keep their grades up.” To Vincent, it is all about the learning, which goes with

Navajo educational philosophy.

Vincent knows he has a special gift and has taken full advantage of both the physical and educational opportunities sport has to offer. He is well aware that baseball served as an outlet to the many hardships Native youth face.

There are gangs on the Rez, and you know maybe their parents don’t push them to go to school. They might get involved in drugs and alcohol, and you know what alcohol can do, it just lowers you. I feel like the odds are just not with Native athletes so there is just a lot of things that can get in the way and you know, just how you’ve grown up.

Given the destruction of the rural grazing economy, rapid population growth, a wage economy exacerbating poverty, the expansion of agency towns, and the problems of

“urbanization” (in a large rural area), the Navajo Nation, just like other Indian tribes, now faces social problems associated with destructive federal Indian policies and higher population. The increase in alcohol and drug use in recent years has been directly

221 correlated with social disruption and crime levels. As the Navajo Nation’s youth are growing in size and reaching the age of gang affiliation, the problem of gang association and violence continues to advance rapidly (Armstrong et al., 2009, pg. 25). The crime picture has changed sharply in recent years, transitioning from petty crime linked with alcohol to violent alcohol-related offenses. Gangs are being blamed for an increase in vandalism, theft, violence, and fear that is altering the texture of life on the Navajo

Nation (Eckholm, December 14, 2009, pg. A14). Vincent is aware of this and is talking about a well-known problem plaguing reservations around the country.

Baseball gave Vincent an outlet to escape these traps of quicksand that can derail young people’s lives and prospects to reach hozho, the basic Navajo philosophy of life, and guided his decisions down a positive, healthy life path that emphasizes Navajo principles and how they can work in the contemporary world where social dysfunction through drugs and violence are creeping onto the reservation.

I obey the rules. I do what my elders say. If you get involved in drinking and alcohol it holds you back. I’ve never gotten involved in these things because I want to play sports and look where it has gotten me. Baseball has given me a future and is a stepping-stone. It has always led me to do the right thing and know what’s right and what’s wrong. I feel like I’m a good role model because I make good decisions.

Every time Vincent suits up for a game, he realizes that the decision to play sports is at the heart of hozho and extends far beyond the baseball field. As Navajo author, poet, and professor Luci Tapahonso states, “we pray several times a day for ourselves, our ancestors, our children and grandchildren…throwing our prayers—we cast our prayers seven generations ahead” (as quoted in Gould, 2005, p 11). By “throwing prayers”,

Navajo women not only listen to the ancestors and pray for future generations, but claim

222 responsibility for their descendants to the “seventh generation,” thus having an obligation to learn from their forefathers in order to provide for the future.

III. Sweeney Windchief:Sport is a Metaphor for Life”

Sweeney Windchief, Jr. (Assiniboine) was born at Intermountain Indian School located in Brigham City, Utah. The Assiniboine are a Siouan speaking people, originally from the northern Great Plains of the United States and Canada. Today, Assiniboine people populate mainly Montana and North Dakota. Sweeney’s relational ties are to the

Fort Peck Reservation near Fort Peck, in Northeastern Montana. His first exposure to participating in organized sports was at the age of three in Cameron, Wyoming. He explains that sports at the time were, “just another form of play,” and part of growing up in a sport family; all four of his sisters competed in volleyball, basketball, track, and golf.

Although basketball and baseball were the most popular sports in his community, he followed his passion for wrestling. “I think my dad had a lot to do with it [choosing to wrestle]. It wasn’t an expectation, but always a choice.” Life lessons, he continued, were part of a choice and each choice carried responsibility according to his father. “…it was also if you were going to start something, you were going to finish it.” Another life lesson came from sports and striving for excellence. “Because I was good at it, I think it is a place where we get recognition, that’s what keeps us interested in sport.” Wrestling afforded Sweeney many unique opportunities growing up and it became a part of who he was as a young man, how he thought of himself: “When I was pretty young, I got to go to

China and Russia and Mongolia to wrestle and that kind of solidified that it was part of

223 my identity, this is what I was. Good enough to compete, becomes a part of who you are.”

Wrestling became the impetus behind Sweeney’s decision to attend college and ultimately where to go, to follow a route that was not open to many of his fellow students, Native or non-Native, or that he even envisioned. “If not for sport, I wouldn’t have gone to school if it had not been for wrestling. I would be in the Marines. College just didn’t [exist as a possibility for most of my friends or me], I wasn’t at that point in my life. I wasn’t very interested in reading. I wasn’t very interested in school work.” Yet, his passion for the sport led to a personal interest in wrestling in college as a way to continue in what he liked to do after high school. His talent caught the eye of multiple college coaches who soon showed him a new world of possibilities.

I had a lot of coaches calling. I took my five recruiting trips to NCAA schools. Two days before my regional tournament, my senior year, my

Dad passed away, and I remember my coach saying, ‘Hey, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to compete. You have already proven yourself.

You are going to have no problem finding your way into college wrestling.’ At that point, I could only think about what my Dad would want me to do and so I ended up wrestling [in the regional tournament]. In a way the sport kept me focused and kept me healthy. A lot of people, after they lose somebody important in their life, it can knock them off for a while. The sport really kept me grounded.

After a very successful high school career and offers from multiple NCAA universities, Sweeney decided to attend Northwest Community College, a junior college in Wyoming, where he became a two time All-American. He explained that he was pretty intimidated by four-year institutions at the time: “I didn’t think I could handle being there. But for me, if I was going to work that hard for somebody it needed to be for somebody that fit my style. This coach, he was very charismatic. That’s how I ended up

224 going there.” His decision proved to be a smart one, as he gained experience on the wrestling mat and in a collegiate classroom. The result of this hard work was a full scholarship.

I will say that there were non-academic skills that Coach taught me that I literally still carry, [and have] carried through my doctoral program. He had three rules [and] all of us were expected to live by these rules. Rule number one: Go to class. ‘I don’t care if you’re sick, I don’t care if you just got home and it is 8 o’clock in the morning and it’s Monday and you were at a funeral, go to class. I don’t care if you’re in love, and she says please stay, go to class.’ The second thing was sit down to your books, sit down to them every day, that’s why you are here. The third thing was that the instructor should know you well enough that if they see you downtown and you are $5 short and you want to go see a movie, you can go to that professor and say ‘Hey, Dr. So and So I’m a little short can I borrow five bucks?’ “Oh yeah, here you go, here’s your five bucks, I’ll see you on

Monday.” Those three things, every class, they literally I think saved my academic career more than once.

After his two years at Northwest, Sweeney chose to leave his home state and pursue wrestling at Central Oklahoma, a NCAA Division II institution. Once again, his decision was influenced by the active and persuasive recruiting, coaching style, and a scholarship offer, as well as the added benefit of the large number of Native students in Oklahoma.

When asked if the Oklahoma coach was aware of his Native descent, Sweeney stated,

My coach, (and I don’t know if he did this on purpose or if it was just happenstance) but when I took my recruiting trip to Central Oklahoma it was the same weekend of the university powwow. I would be lying if I didn’t say that was really one of the main reasons I chose to go there.

Number one you see an Indian population at your institution, [in] the very gym you will be competing in. And if a coach has enough insight to do that by design, there is something there. He identifies as being of Native decent, his dad identifies as being Native. Yeah, so it was pretty, identity wise. He was pretty understanding.

Not only was there Native representation in the student body, but also on the athletic fields. “There were other Indian athletes there, too. It was really cool, you would

225 see them in the training room, icing something, getting something taped back on, whatever. There were a couple of Native football players, a Native volleyball player, a

Native basketball player.” Although the presence of other Native athletes on campus was part of Sweeney’s experience, he did not let “race” or “ethnicity” impact his wrestling career. Sometimes it was his Native identity that guided him, while other times he was just a wrestler, trying to win the next match. Reflecting on his wrestling experiences in

Wyoming, he stated, “I have to admit there was really something sort of competitive about beating non-Natives as a Native person. There was some notoriety in that, especially in the cowboy state of Wyoming.” This was a sentiment that all biographers of great Native American sports heroes and celebrities mention—the visibilities of undermining prejudicial racial typologies and overgeneralized stereotypes. He then went on to say:

Sport to me is a pretty special place because sometimes it transcends typical race relations than you would normally see. It is a place where-uh--I’m not talking melting pot ideology, I’m not talking we are all trying to be the same here, but you are respectful of each other’s differences and are working towards the same thing. It is a really unique space created right, and you trust each other because of what you have been through together. You see each other at your highest points. You are supporting each other at your lowest points, hopefully. It really was a unique opportunity for all of us to get to know each other and to set aside some of our stereotypes and our bias.

Sweeney was quite insightful about how to fight stereotyping—sports provided the arena for everyone to see individuals with the same goals, not racial or ethnic types.

The decision to move away from home to pursue wrestling did not come without its costs, however. Sweeney felt he had to do without everything he was comfortable with

226 when he left home. The change in landscape was especially problematic and created a yearning and it was especially difficult to be without his family.

I left my mountains. I left uh, at that time in my life I wasn’t like I was going there for the academics; it was more [or] less I’m a wrestler, this is what I am going to do. To be on this competitive team. It was my goal to see out [complete] my four years; I wanted to compete all the way through college.

The sacrifices included the physical abuse that came with competition and the toll this took.

One of my professors saw me wandering around in the Humanities building with a big black eye and a swollen ear, kind of dragging around.

You get super beat up [in wrestling]. He shakes his head and he says, ‘I don’t know why you do it’. When you are in that space, you take that

[physical] abuse and you push yourself and so in a sense you are sacrificing everything. And so, I remember there were times when I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I knew I was hurt but I was going back. I remember, you know, walking to practice, not knowing if I was hurt or injured and going probably when I shouldn’t have been. Out of love for the sport.

The never-give-up attitude and the coaches’ directive to always go to class and practice, despite being ill, or that illness is not an excuse, helped in the short term goals to attend class and succeed in sport. However, Sweeney’s persistence to keep wrestling even though he was injured does suggest that sport can be taken too far and turned into an obsession. This compulsive preoccupation with sport is unfortunately what sometimes is required of people who excel at competition of any kind in American-Canadian societies.

For Sweeney, at times, wrestling was not safe and balanced with other facets of his life; but he survived.

Just as he had in junior college, Sweeney credited his success at a four year university to his desire to contribute to the victory of his team. It was never only about his

227 individual success, an attitude that reflects Native Americans’ thinking toward their societies and cultures. “There were so many matches that if I won, the team won, if I lost, the team lost. I pulled us out a lot. I won a lot of matches for the team and the coach. He really recognized that.” The coach had stressed dedication to the group and self-sacrifice for the good of the group—again, personality traits and actions that are admired about young men in Assiniboine culture. His decisions to give his best for the team meant that

Sweeney never felt the desire to drop out of college. The main reason he was in school was, first of all, to wrestle, which accounts for his identifying himself as a “wrestler” first, and second, everything else in his life, including scholarship, educational advancement, and his heritage.

During that time [college] in my life I was, that’s who I was, I was a wrestler….I think that was based on what was important to me at the time.

It is hard to say that those things at home weren’t more important to me. I feel bad about that because I was so into this individual sport. It’s about me and I am going to make the sacrifices I need to make.

Sweeney realized that he was consumed by wrestling, but he also contends that his identity as a wrestler has helped him make healthy transitions throughout his life. It has given him the stamina and creativity to deal with change, just as his training has given him the ability to meet each new opponent. This has allowed him to not stagnate, to not turn his high school successes into the defining moments of his life. His identity as a wrestler has also helped him through the life cycle experiences all people have to face, in his insightfulness about community identity, and how people see him and think of him.

If not for sport, it may have been that [there were new things in life] that needed to be experienced so I wasn’t trying to relive my high school days for the rest of my life, like you see some people do. [Sports helped me grow as a person.] I think the bigger shift happened after wrestling and I

228 had parted ways. It is now more about me being a member of my community. So if there was a shift, it was away from this identity of me as an athlete to an identity of a contributing community member. I can’t define it for myself. My identity has to be defined by a community. So I can’t [do this—think about my identity as you ask your question] in my mind. The only reason I can say I’m Indian is because all [those] other

Indians say ‘yeah, he’s Indian’. When I go back home for summer stuff people know my family, some people are taken with each other as relatives. So absolutely we understand, I can say I am an Assiniboine

Indian because they say I am.

Sweeney’s college experience began via his talent and passion for wrestling, and flowered into a passion for academics and for providing support for Native students to achieve their goals. Today, after completing a master’s degree in counseling and a doctorate in educational leadership, he is the Assistant Dean for the University Graduate

School at the University of Utah. Sport created a space for him in college and after many years of reflection, he believes that sport can offer that same space to other Native athletes. Through his personal experience, he provides insight and guidance to both

Native athletes and college coaches regarding the importance of mentorship. “I want to believe that it is about mentorship. I want to believe that it is about a coach being able through their own abilities as a coach, through their own personal relationship with other college coaches. It’s the responsibility on the college coaches and assistant coaches to be able to work in those [Native] communities.” Sweeney regards coaches as family away from home, and attributes his persistence throughout college to the support from his coaches.

Another reason I chose the schools to attend that I did was they were both schools that advocated for me not cutting my hair. I think that I was the first person allowed to wrestle with long hair since 1972 when college wrestling made the rules. When I was in junior college, my coach got a letter from a spiritual advisor at home. He took it to weigh-ins and anytime

229 anyone would have an issue he would show them that letter. When I got to NCAA competitions there was a referee at a key tournament in Las

Vegas who said I couldn’t wrestle and my coach was livid, livid. We went through the process and within a week we had an exemption from the

NCAA, a letter of exemption that allowed for me to keep my hair, not to have to cut my hair.

As an Assiniboine man, Sweeney’s hair denotes strength, spirituality, and masculinity.

Therefore, by keeping his hair long, he was symbolically and spiritually connected to home. The determined and active support from his coaches allowed Sweeney to navigate successfully through sport and college, an important success factor that is lacking for many Native athletes.

Do coaches know how to navigate Native space? Do they know how to talk to Native families? Do they know how to recruit these students in a way that connects with the students? What is the cultural space of that team? It’s just like the academy; do we need to set our Indigenous identity down to be successful at this thing? I think coaches’ and student athletes’ spaces need to maybe be merged in Indigenous communities for a little while so that they can start picking up the nuances of the way Native students are communicating, you know, things that are important to those students.

An affective mentor now only nurtures a student’s passion and ability, but also provides mental and psychological support. Mentorship has had a lasting effect on Sweeney’s collegiate and now professional experience, as he is now in the mentor role, guiding students through the education process. He believes educators and community members need to prepare Native students for the spaces they are entering; they need to encourage people to participate and take responsibility for their commitments and not miss opportunities through laziness and lack of motivation.

I would really like to see it set down and think about how we can prepare our students to navigate non-Native space and they can be successful in college and athletics. It doesn’t just happen with wrestling. It happens with

getting them into college too. Same advice, go to every class verbatim, I don’t care if you are sick, I don’t care if you’re in love, go to class. So that is one of the ways. In fact, there are students right now at the

University of Utah and I will look at them and I can hold up my three fingers and wherever they’re at or whoever they are in front of, they can be in front of family, in front of friends, in their skinny jeans it’s just whatever. I want to see them succeed, or at least give them the tools to become what they want.

Despite his positive assessment of his undergraduate years, however, Sweeney singled out an important factor that was missing in his own collegiate wrestling experience: an

Indigenous identity within sport.

There is a place, a space in sports but there is unique Indigenous identity within that sport. At home it is quite literally a ceremony. I went to a basketball game. I was actually back home for a ceremony, [when] we went to a basketball game. In Montana basketball is a big thing. These student athletes from my reservation would pick somebody, one of their relatives would make a star quilt for them. In the divisionals they would lay these star quilts out on the basketball floor and the student and someone in their family would stand on the star quilts. More often than not they were players from other teams, athletes they had competed against.

And they would give them the star quilt. It almost made me cry because again that sport combined with culture transcended people’s thoughts.

Those kids, growing in the situations they do, may have some stereotypes, may have some racist attitudes and beliefs. Because of that experience,

[they] may hear something somewhere and say, ‘Wait a minute. They are not like that. Look what they gave me.’ Some players would pick coaches from other teams to give the star quilts to. And I think the more we can find a space of Natives doing their sport, no matter what sport, it is their way, [it] is the avenue to college. Because it makes the culture relevant.

That is something I missed. There was no cultural relevance [or articulation with culture when I was in high school]. The only cultural relevance that I had in wrestling was my reaction to… was my way of decolonizing space at the time. Right? [If] you compete with somebody who says something racist it is okay to choke them out. Literally in my sport, as long as the ref doesn’t know that’s what you’re doing. That was the extent of it for me, but I see this place of kindness and their giving to the people that you are competing against. It was just one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Young people giving this stuff away, that sort of thing. I am not saying to replicate it, but if that sort of thing


231 can happen in other contexts you’ll see sports change in a way that makes it more accessible for athletes.

Although Sweeney’s wrestling career ended after college, he continued to apply the qualities that wrestling offered to his life.

For me, it [sport] has definitely kept me active. I know I can exercise hard and I am not going to die, I can push myself and I know I am not going to die. It’s a healthy life, it is a good life. It is pretty easy to get pulled in too tight. It’s important to stay grounded, it’s important I think. Somehow we need to find a way to make sport culturally relevant and acceptable. It is quite literally a quality of life issue. Given the health disparity in the communities, if we can have basketball leagues and 5Ks and marathons and fun runs—integrate that more into our communities—then I think we’ll have a higher quality of life as a community. Let’s do it in the

Indian Way.

Wrestling and sport have afforded Sweeney ample opportunities, life lessons, and a keen evidence that sport can be integrated with his daily life and provide cross-cultural opportunities.

I wouldn’t have gone to school if it had not been for sports. That sport took me to China, Russia, Mongolia. That sport paid for college, room, board, books, tuition. That sport is really, really a huge part of who I am.

Even today, my whole way of navigating professional space is based on the way that I wrestled. I stay in good position and if an opportunity presents itself, you take it, you commit yourself and you finish, that is how you will win this metaphorical match. Sport is a metaphor for life. Yes, sport is a metaphor for life.

IV. Frank Sage:Here’s your coach thinking, questioning you about your citizenship. I just kind of felt isolated.”

I was introduced to Frank Sage at the Native American and Indigenous Studies

Association (NAISA) conference in Sacramento, California, May 2011. After presenting my paper, “Running for Health Intervention and Cultural Revitalization,” he graciously introduced himself as a Navajo runner and expressed his gratitude for my talking about

232 the importance of running. We had a long conversation about how, for Native people, running has the power to change lives. We exchanged contact information; Frank was enthusiastic to share his experience of running in college. At thirty-eight, Frank is currently pursuing his doctorate in education foundation research at the University of

North Dakota and attended NAISA to network with other Native scholars. His journey into higher education, however, began over thirty years ago with his passion for running.

Frank grew up in Counselor, New Mexico, a rural town on the eastern side of the

Navajo reservation. There was no public school in his community, so Frank attended

Dzith’na’o’dith’hle Community Boarding School fifty miles from home. Since students were confined to the boarding school for most of the year, sport provided the main vehicle to escape the campus and travel. “One of the reasons [to play sports] was to travel and then I realized I was good in certain sports and liked traveling, getting away and then competition.” Although Frank explained that his boarding school as well as the

Santa Fe Indian School, where he attended high school, were “moralistic boarding schools,” his involvement in sport became an outlet both physically and mentally. His older brothers and sister were all athletes at the same schools, so naturally Frank hoped to follow in their footsteps.

Once at the Santa Fe Indian School, Frank’s small stature limited him on the football field, so he explained, “that is when I started running competitively. I really realized that I was kind of good. So I thought, hey, I can do this. So there I ran cross country. I went out for basketball but then I realized there was an indoor track too so I quit basketball to run.” Running became a part of Frank’s daily routine and disciplined

233 him, similarly to what growing up on the reservation had done. Although he did not play sports until he attended high school, physical activity was not a new phenomenon.

Referring to his childhood, Frank explained, “I think it [physical activity] was just a lifestyle. He [Frank’s father] was never the couch potato type person and my Mom was the same way plus we always had horses, cattle and sheep. So you were always doing something physically, so that was pretty much modeled into our daily life. It was just part of living on the Rez.” Frank was thus introduced to the importance of hard, physical work at a young age; he then took this activity and the lessons learned from it through his high school and collegiate running career.

Frank measured his success in high school humbly. “Well, I started and I finished

[a race].” His coach, however, pushed him and his teammates to constantly improve, to do better each time, and to pursue running at a collegiate level. Frank remembers,

During every cross-country meet on Friday evening, our coach would order pizza for us and he would play Running Brave, the movie, and that is when I realized, hey, we can compete in college…And then one of the guys actually got a scholarship to Highram University, actually pretty big.

He came and talked to us about being college athletes and stuff like that.

You know before that you just kind of hear about it, you know what I mean? It was pretty rare for a Native to get a scholarship, especially for cross-country and track. I guess that is how I knew you could run in college.

This introduction to collegiate running by his coach, reinforced by the success of former teammates, enticed Frank’s interests and motivated him to pursue cross country and track in college. After high school, Frank made the Division I New Mexico State cross country and track team as a walk-on athlete. His collegiate experience is different from the other individuals I interviewed in that he only ran for New Mexico State University for one

234 year before deciding to drop out of school to join the Army. In 2006, almost ten years after leaving school, Frank decided to try college again, this time at the University of

North Dakota.

The opportunity to continue running competitively was Frank’s primary reason for attending college: “the experience was unique, it was a once in a lifetime chance I had.” The transition to college, however, was not easy. At New Mexico State, he had encountered a lot of “firsts” as he put it. There was “a lot of cultural change, there was a lot of stuff that is in the sports culture that an average Native person doesn’t know about…my first time on a plane…some other culture shock, probably being in a predominately white culture pretty much.” One of the most difficult aspects was the winat-all-costs mentality of collegiate sports. “Pretty much like if you don’t produce, you’re out. If you don’t help us win, you’re out. That kind of deal. It is pretty much cut throat society I think.” The challenges went deeper and Frank’s experience speaks to the stereotypical and racial hardships many Native athletes face. Although his New Mexico

State team was multi-racial, Frank was subjected to both ignorance and racism by his coach. Frank received both a Navajo Tribal scholarship and a Pell Grant, but did not receive an athletic scholarship, because “once they [coaches] find out you are Native they won’t offer it to you. They encourage you to go for a tribal scholarship.” After meeting with a financial aid person, who was Native herself, Frank learned that, “the perception is that Native people get free money and they have this pool of money that they can get assistance from. The coaches think, ‘we are getting this one free so we can spend our money somewhere else.’”


Despite this racist undertone, Frank enjoyed running for New Mexico State.

Running for a Division I school, on the other hand, is all encompassing and left Frank with little time to befriend other Native American students on campus or join Native student organizations or events. However, he found friendship with one of his teammates, Chris, a Native man from Jemez Pueblo of New Mexico. Frank stated,

“Chris and I talked a lot about certain issues and I think the thing that made us work is that we were able to communicate at a level of being Native and be connected with each other right away. We had a system, a network, we had a team and so wherever we went

[for] food, travel we were roommates and we stayed together. Pretty much like brothers, you know? That made it easy for us. If I [had been] alone I probably wouldn’t have lasted.”

Frank remembered they used humor to get through difficult times. When the team would receive new shoes, Frank and Chris would get the older, almost out of date style. “We were laughing like ‘hey, this is like running in those Converse canvas shoes.’

We got those two shoes for free and the guy, Rob, he was the faster guy, he got the Air

Nike and we were like ‘hey, there is something wrong here [laughing].’ Then the coach goes ‘well we don’t have any in your size.’ And we were just kind of like okay, whatever.”

Frank never felt that he had to sacrifice his identity. He felt that being Navajo not only strengthened his ability to compete in college, but also provided ample opportunity to educate others about Native cultures. “My identity never left me because when people ask you, what are you, what is your ethnicity, I always say ‘I’m Navajo’ and Chris would

236 say ‘I’m Jemez’. I think our uniqueness made people question who we are, more [about] our [ethnic] identity than “oh you are an athlete”…It helped us in a way because we were able to educate and tell them a little bit about our culture, our way of life. It was kind of like an ice breaker.”

The ability to run as a Navajo man in college and to educate others about his culture were highlights of his first and only year at New Mexico State. On the other hand, due to his lack of interest in academics as well as his maturity level in the classroom,

Frank struggled scholastically. He therefore decided to take a break from school and join the Army. Frank continued to run: “In the Army you still have to do the running and do physical exercise and I enjoy the PT Test because I was able to beat everybody

[laughing]. So that was my pride.”

Frank began to run races while in the Army, and that sparked his aspiration to run competitively again. Upon leaving the Army, moving to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and taking classes at the University of North Dakota, Frank approached the cross country and track coach about running for his team. Frank said, “‘Yeah, I’m older than average but I ran one year in college [at] the New Mexico State and joined the military and now I want to complete again.’ And then they checked into it and told me I had one year. I thought

‘really’ [laughing] so I did a walk-on again at the University of North Dakota. And that was a culture shock.” Once again he felt the same underlying sense of racism that he had experienced at New Mexico State University. However, while New Mexico was a racially diverse school, North Dakota was predominantly white. Frank remembered, “I heard a lot of racial jokes about Natives at the beginning because they didn’t know that I

237 was a Native. When people asked where I was from I would say New Mexico and they would ask ‘do you speak Spanish?’ And I would say ‘Hell No!’ [laughing]. Those kinds of conversations like ‘have you ever seen snow?’ And I would say ‘yes, and it’s cold.’”

Frank’s love for running and newfound desire to complete his education persisted, despite the constant cultural blindness and ignorance of his teammates. Regarding his fellow runners, he said, “Weird in a way that they were almost scared of me, didn’t want to talk to me anymore [after finding out he was Native], didn’t want to ask me questions like they did at the beginning.” People who have been isolated from diversity growing up seem to fear those who are different.

Frank’s teammates were not the only ones who perpetrated ignorance, however.

Parochialism and even geographical obliviousness was pervasive. Soon after making the team, Frank had a conversation with his coach about his running history, class credits, and where he was from when “He [the coach] waited for a while and then he goes, ‘Are you a citizen?’ I looked at him like, what are you talking about? And then he said,

‘You’re from New Mexico’, and I said, ‘Yes New Mexico, that’s part of the fifty states.’”

As a result of this insularity, while Frank was open about his Navajo heritage, he felt isolated and alone in North Dakota. “Here’s your coach thinking, questioning you about your citizenship. I just kind of felt isolated.” There was no other Native on the team with whom he could commiserate this time and Frank realized that the coach spoke from general ignorance and not really about Frank as an individual. Frank began to see himself like Lakota 1964 Olympic Gold Medal winner Billy Mills in the movie Running

Brave: “Well, he wanted to join the Frat house. But they told him he couldn’t join

238 because he was Indian. He could hang out but he couldn’t join. I kind of felt the same.

When I was sitting there thinking, so I said, ‘So I am good enough to compete right?’

And he said, ‘yeah, just keep going to practice, you can practice with us but we will see about you competing.’” Frank continued to practice and earned his spot on both the track and cross country teams.

Since Frank transferred schools, he only had one remaining year of eligibility.

After his collegiate running career ended, Frank continued his education, earning a

Bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2008, a Master’s in sociology in 2011, and beginning his PhD in Education Foundation Research at the University of North Dakota in the fall of 2012.

Although Frank began his collegiate career with the sole purpose of running, track and cross country opened the door for him to think about his education in general and what to do with his life—which was not simply staying in the Army. Moreover, he feels that sport successfully contributed to many of his life lessons.

I think sports for me at the beginning, it was to get away more or less travelling, social. And then it came to the competitive stage and then along the process it also taught me how to be competitive and pretty much accomplishing goals one of them, discipline and just being able to adapt to your environment in any situation. It helps you think on your feet.

These are life skills that anyone can use to succeed and they fall under the rubric of resiliency. Reflecting upon his educational and athletic experience, Frank offered suggestions for how to increase the number of American Indian collegiate athletes. He believes that reservation schools, off-reservation and public schools, universities, and

239 athletes all have a shared responsibility for the changes that need to take place in education.

A lot of Native athletes don’t make it because of academics. And also there needs to be some kind of discipline in place because once they leave the home and go to the university there is a whole lot of things they go through culturally and socially and one of the things they start to experience is freedom…there needs to be more discipline I think as far as speaking about education and sport…but there has got to be some kind of curriculum where they actually have academics and sports. Physical activity incorporated with each other. Maybe that would make the Native people more competitive [to play a sport in college].

Frank draws upon his experiences as a Navajo man, runner, and student to challenge

Native people to take responsibility for their own future. This is a fundamental Navajo value. “Athlete or not, we have to take responsibility for our own selves and yes, we live in a society where there is all kinds of discrimination and all kinds of racism, but we have to acknowledge and also recognize that we can go beyond those isms. If we just have that motivation, determination and discipline and heart then we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to.” He humbly believes that “as Native people and as individual

Natives we can do that.”

Frank has had an atypical experience as both a student and a student-athlete, yet he continues to persist and elicit the qualities of a true role model for American Indian people. During our first conversation, almost two years ago, his enthusiasm to encourage

American Indians through sport and education shone from beginning to end. After our interview, it became inherently clear that his actions as a Native athlete and scholar parallel his declarations.


V. Derek Nugwey Johnson:I just wanted to be another brown guy you know, I didn’t want to be the guy who stood out because that’s what I was growing up.”

As Derek Nugwey Johnson was introducing himself to me over Skype, I noticed a large, framed picture of Jim Thorpe hanging behind him. He saw I was eyeing the picture and proclaimed, “My Father is good friends with Billy Mills, so Billy Mills and my uncle grew up being a huge fan of Jim Thorpe. I kind of fell into that mold of every

Indian kid out there having a role-model of Jim Thorpe and wanting to be at that elite level. I incorporate Jim Thorpe into any type of research I have ever done starting from grade school all the way to my master’s thesis, so you know that is kind of where I have always been.” As a thirty-one year old Chippewa and Eastern Band of Cherokee man,

Derek has always been involved in sports. His passion for sport was instilled through family; his father played football and coached for the University of Michigan, his older brothers played football for the University of Pennsylvania, and his uncle on his mother’s side played and coached for the New York Mets. Derek grew up playing hockey in

Haslett, Michigan, about an hour south of the Chippewa Tribe of Michigan reservation.

When he would visit his mom’s reservation in New York during the summer, he would play lacrosse with his cousins, something that has a cultural significance within Cherokee cosmology. The importance of sport in Derek’s family on both a generational and a cultural level was instilled in him at the age of three, when he first picked up a hockey stick.

Derek saw sport as an equalizer. “The town I grew up in was 96% white, me and my brother were the only two Natives in the entire school district…I just played sports all year round just to maintain friendships and you know try to fit in, but I had the

241 competitive nature, and knew how I wanted to be.” Growing up, sport afforded Derek an arena where he could be competitive, a quality he still values today. Although hockey was Derek’s first passion, his father encouraged him to play football in high school. The decision proved to be a smart one, because Derek was a standout football player. He measures his success in a variety of ways: “My senior year we ended up going 12 and 1 to the State Championships…I was First Team, Dream Team from Atlanta State Journal newspaper…I was also our high school’s first Michigan High School Coaches

Association All-Star, and that is picked by all the coaches in the state of Michigan.”

Derek’s accolades and impressive stats on the field were secondary to his own measurement of self-success. “My own personal view, I was very successful in terms of getting the opportunity to use sport as an access to higher education, getting into college, because I didn’t have good grades.” He always knew he wanted to play a sport at the collegiate level, and always counted on his athletic abilities as the ticket into college.

As a sophomore in high school, Derek attended football camps in Michigan, where college coaches were present to scout out potential recruits. At the beginning of his junior year, when college coaches were first allowed to contact him as a recruit,

Derek began getting phone calls and letters from universities around the country.

Unfortunately, “my junior year at the beginning of the season I got injured and a lot of coaches fell off the map then. It is tough coming back from an ACL knee injury, being a college prospect. I think that was another drive [to play collegiate football].” Derek’s work ethic and passion afforded him a scholarship to the University of Michigan, although he turned it down. While in high school, Derek remembers being “the big brown

242 guy” on the team. He and his brother “had a running joke that we played on the team of

44 White guys and two Indians, so we didn’t think we belonged there.” Derek chose to attend the University of Hawaii (UH) because they ran the style of offense he preferred, and “honestly, I just wanted to be another brown guy you know, I didn’t want to be the guy who stood out because that’s what I was growing up.” Also, his mom attended school at UH, so “we say awhwanna, so we had family out there.” Derek’s decision to move across the Pacific to attend a college where he fit in as a Native man speaks volumes to the underrepresentation of Native athletes on both high school and collegiate sports teams. Fortunately, he had the talent to choose a path that was conducive to his success as a student and an athlete.

Derek competed at the University of Hawaii, a Division I school in the Western

Athletic Conference, from 1999 to 2001. “I didn’t play all four years because I have had two shoulder surgeries on my left shoulder. My career ended due to injury. I wanted to get my education because those were the values that my parents instilled in me and my brother. I just took my time after that.” Although Derek only played for two years, he continued his education and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Ethnic Studies Race

Relations in 2004. “I loved my college experience…I got my degree in Race Relations because Hawaii is so diverse. I’ve got friends from New Zealand, Australia, from Japan, all over the world.” Even though there were not any other Native American athletes on his team, there were Native Hawaiians, Samoans, and Tongans, who made up 60 percent of the student-body population. Since he was the only Native American on his team, his coach nick-named him Chief. “My dad was nick-named Super Chief at Michigan, and so

243 after my first recruiting trip, my coach was hyping me up to my team and calling me

Chief, the name just stuck. Everybody around the island still calls me Chief whenever I go back, it gave me my own persona in Hawaii.”

Derek was hundreds of miles away from home, so his identity became tied to the island and his team members became his family. There were points throughout his freshmen year in which Derek felt like dropping out of college, yet the brotherhood of his football team became his foundation and support system. “[What] I took from playing in

Hawaii is the brotherhood and the family atmosphere that is needed to be successful…we all lived together…they are the only ones that know what you are going through.” The support Derek experienced in Hawaii left a lasting impact on him as a mature man.

Hawaii became Derek’s home. “Still today, when people ask me where I’m from, I say I am from Hawaii because that is where I felt I grew up…Once I was in Hawaii I was on my own, I had to grow up.” While away at college, he felt the pressure from his Native community, “I understand the pressure you get from having a Native family being back on the Rez. You know everybody wants you to be there, be a part of the family, learn traditional ways and live traditional.” Derek felt he was giving back to his family and community by pursuing his dream, earning his education, and living by the values his parents and grandparents instilled in him growing up. When he would visit home, he began talking to the youth about his own experiences as a student-athlete, instilling in them the plausibility of pursuing their own dreams.

Unlike many Division I athletes, Derek did not receive an athletic scholarship.

His coach was aware of the financial support from the Chippewa Tribe and this left an

244 additional scholarship for another student athlete. Derek never felt any racism or bias as an athlete at UH, not only because he was just another “brown guy”, but also due to the philosophy of the coaching staff. His offensive line coach always encouraged academics, but his head coach “came from the NFL so they had a different philosophy from a lot of coaches these days. The first meeting they were like we are going to practice like the pros, we are going to treat you like the pros…they expected us to get our job done in the classroom and on the field…being accountable for everything we did.” The coaches instilled work ethic on the field and inspired role model behavior when in the community.

“He [coach] would say, ‘remember outside of these walls you are a reflection of me and I am a reflection of you, so what you guys have to do is make smart decisions.’” Role models have been instrumental in Derek’s desire to reach his goals. “A lot of people say that the main thing that makes sports unique is the competitiveness and knowing that there is a winner and a loser. I kind of adopted one of my football coaches that I worked for, his mentality he says the only stat that matters is W. He doesn’t mean it by wins and losses even though that is really what it means. But how you get to that win, the team effort, the preparation, everything. And that is how I kept going and had that drive.”

That drive that sport infused in Derek complimented his identity as a Chippewa/Cherokee man, and both heritages are prevalent in other domains of his life.

“One thing that my father always told me growing up was stand tall, shoulders back be proud to be Indian you know, don’t slough, don’t look down but I think just knowing that your family is always there is a huge thing.” Derek acknowledges that it was the determination of his grandparents and great grandparents that allowed him to

245 earn a college degree and reach his aspirations. “Identity is based off your character, your values of who you are and who you portray. The person you want to portray. With my

Native values, I think seven generations ahead, that is how it is…your identity is going to change with how your values change…I have that legacy to live up to and also provide the role-model issue for my kids.” Derek undeniably portrayed himself as a role model at

UH by exemplifying that earning an education is as equally important as playing a sport in college. “I wasn’t nearly as successful as a college player in terms of on the field as I was in high school because of the fact that everybody who plays Division I college football is an All-Star. Just that rehab and that injury prevented me, but I measured my success by getting my degree.” Although Derek was unable to continue his football career, he found another path and profession through education.

Upon graduating from UH, Derek started working with at-risk youth in Hawaii.

He then had the opportunity to attend the World’s Indigenous People Education

Conference in New Zealand and work with emergent language schools. Derek’s inspiring work earned him a Graduate Assistant position at Penn State, where he completed a

Masters in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in the American Indian Leadership

Cohort. From there, Derek moved to San Diego to support his best friend, who had just been drafted to the San Diego Chargers. Upon arriving in southern California, Derek took a job at San Diego State University in the Athletic Department as an academic mentor. This is where his passion to help Native athletes navigate through college heightened. He realized that his experience as a former Native collegiate athlete provided ample vision to help more Native students pursue a sport in college. During Derek’s first

246 year, San Diego hired Coach Hoag, the former University of Michigan football coach.

Hoag was aware of Derek’s career as a player and the history of football in his family, so he recruited him to work solely with the football team. “I couldn’t pass up working for

Coach Hoag, just because I knew what the Michigan man mentality was and that’s helping these young men grow up to be better fathers, husbands, brothers—just better men in society.”

Derek gained fundamental experiences and became a household name in the athletic-academic advising world while working with student-athletes at San Diego.

Unfortunately, California budget cuts forced him to take a job at Montana State as an athletic academic advisor. After only six months at Montana State, Derek was offered the opportunity to work at Washington State. “The opportunity to grow at Washington

State was too great so even my Athletic Director at Montana State pushed me out the door.” Currently, Derek is the Coordinator of Leadership Development and Academic

Advisory for football and women’s basketball at Washington State, a Division I school in the Pac-12. Although he advises all student athletes on his teams, he is aware that being the Native American Academic advisor in Division I football comes with the responsibility to help all Native athletes around the county. He represented the Pac-12

Conference this July as part of the Senior Level Administrators Leadership Institute at the

University of North Carolina. This placed him one step closer to reaching his ultimate goal of becoming an Athletic Director at a major university. Derek articulated that there are not only low percentages of Native collegiate athlete, but also a lack of Native coaches and administrators on college campuses. His presence and strong voice foster

247 awareness and facilitate Native people’s access to college campuses. Sport provided

Derek with the opportunity to attend a four-year university, afforded him the chance to work at Washington State, and elicited a desire to support other student athletes to pursue their own dreams.

Another of Derek’s aspirations is to start an “initiative to go out to the reservations and talk to these Native communities about what it takes to be a college bound student athlete. I think a lot of students these days don’t understand the recruiting process starts in 8 th

grade…the first thing you have to do to give yourself a chance to be recruitable is taking the right classes it takes to get into college.” In order for Native students to increase their chances of playing a sport in college, Derek believes they have to actively recruit themselves. “I understand that not everybody is going to have the equipment to build a highlight tape or have someone develop a flashy highlight tape, but every school that I know has a recruiting form. There are other ways to get your name out there.” It is not, however, only a responsibility of the individual athlete. Derek recognizes that parents and school counselors also have to understand the process. His initiative is an educational piece to inform students of the steps it takes to “go from

Window Rock to Phoenix” so they can be successful in academics and athletics. Derek’s experience as an athlete and advisor has led him to believe that “everybody’s story is unique and everybody has [a] different mentality. I know that not every Native student out there, Native student athlete, has the opportunity to have a father as a coach at one of the biggest institutions in the country. Everybody gets their own motivation from somewhere.” Derek continuously passes on his leadership qualities to his students. “I ask

248 our student athletes, ‘what do you want to do and what do you want to be remembered for’, and hopefully I try to do that for myself. I think that is where people will get more clarity in the decisions that they make and where they want to go and how they want to get there.” Derek’s qualities as an athlete are expressed through the education he offers to his students and the goals he has set to create a path for Native athletes. It certainly will not be surprising if future Native athletes aspire to be like Derek Nugwey Johnson, just as

Derek found his motivation in Jim Thorpe.




I. Darlane Santa Cruz: I was the only brown girl on the team, and um, I don’t know, I feel like I stood out. I just think it’s like a reflection of the society, of even seeing

Indigenous people in college or seeing them in the work force or in positions of power, I guess you would say. I don’t know, racism, I have no other explanation.”

Darlane Santa Cruz grew up in Tucson, Arizona as an avid Wildcat basketball fan. “I definitely loved the University of Arizona basketball team. That was around the time they won the National Championship in ’97, and that was a really big deal. I loved all the basketball players.” Basketball was Darlane’s first love, but not the only sport she enjoyed playing in middle and high school. “I think it was a family thing, like on Sundays we would go to the park and play basketball, so it was always a big part of my life. I have two brothers who were always playing basketball so that was my first kind of inclination towards athletics.” Darlane’s father was a pastor at her church, so she was either playing sports or attending church. Sport was not merely a leisure activity for Darlane’s family; it also expressed cultural ties. “I identify myself as Eudeve/Opata from the Sonora area from my father’s side and Tarahumara from my mom’s side, but culturally I affiliate here in Tucson.” For both the Eudeve/Opata and Tarahumara Indigenous communities, running is culturally and spiritually tied to their survival and sustenance. “Indigenous people, they had to run right, that was part of their survival.” Darlane’s father carried on the running legacy of his people: “My dad was a runner when he was young, his dream was to run in the Olympics…When he was growing up, he wanted to run track and there were no opportunities for him, so he moved from his Pueblo to Nogales where he went to school and ran track for a couple of years.” Darlane ultimately chose to pursue tennis as

250 her primary sport and, similarly to her father, her path as an Indigenous athlete strengthened her cultural identity.

Growing up, Darlane participated in basketball and volleyball and ran track. As an athlete, she became aware that living a healthy life was due in large part to success in sport. “In 8 th

grade I started taking it more seriously and even kind of watched what I ate, being really aware of not drinking soda, not eating junk food, so that I really kind of stepped it up. I just love the feeling, right, of running, of working up a sweat, kind of just blowing some steam.” She did not, however, pick up a tennis racquet until she was in high school. She attributes this to both her physical and academic success. “I think I graduated with a 3.66. My freshman year is probably what brought me down the most. I did sports all year but I was having a hard time finding my niche there and I think I averaged like a B. And then, once I picked up tennis I was so determined about what I wanted to do that I think I mostly averaged A’s in my classes. So for me tennis that was a motivation to do well in school.”

Outside of high school classes, Darlane began taking summer courses at the

University of Arizona to advance her writing skills. “UA really helped me with my writing skills. I am always trying to think more critically…always interested in the bigger questions, on ethical issues. I feel [these classes] made me more prepared [for college] than some of the students. You know I felt comfortable. I knew I could compete with them.” Darlane attributes the ability to “compete” in both academics and the collegiate athletic world to her Desert View High School coach, Stacey Haines, as well as former

University of Arizona women’s tennis coach, Vickey Mays.


Darlane’s athletic ability and natural talent were evident on the tennis court. “My first year of stepping on the court I made the varsity. My second year I was playing number three on the team, three and two. And then my senior year I was number one.”

Darlane knew she wanted to attend college, so with the positive feedback from her coach and her impressive wins on the court, her dream of playing a sport at the collegiate level soon became a reality. “Coach was like if you’re really, if this is really something you want to do, going to play tennis in college is a possibility for you.” Darlane began to push herself physically and sought additional coaches to train her. “Vickey Mays here [UA women’s tennis coach], she would volunteer and she would train me. Just from the goodness of her heart because I could never afford tennis lessons.” Darlane also actively advocated for herself off the tennis court: “I had like a little blog, like a tennis blog. That was something I used [as a tool for college recruitment].” The tennis blog and her impressive top 20 ranking in the competitive Southern Arizona Junior tennis circuit caught the eye of college coaches. “I travelled to one school in Louisiana. I went over there to check it out, they paid for it. There was another school in Vermont that wanted me to go check it out but I basically knew I didn’t want to go that way. And then the coach from Gonzaga had come down here to one of the tournaments. I was being recruited by Gonzaga University in Washington.”

Darlane was also recruited by Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. The school was a Southern Baptist university, something that enticed Darlane. “My Dad was a pastor so I was really trying to figure out my faith and my religious affiliation and what that meant. I was really interested in learning about the Civil Rights Movement in the


South…being interested in social justice issues.” Their Division I athletic standing also persuaded Darlane to move across the country, away from the support of her family, coaches, and culture. Money made the final difference in her decision. “I got an athletic scholarship so that was like 14 grand. The Pell Grant paid for the rest.”

Receiving this athletic scholarship offered Darlane the possibility of attending college and the ability to realize the dream for which she had worked so hard and prepared so superbly. She knew, however, that this would also entail some adjustments to her life and that of her family. Luckily, her parents were ready and had great confidence in her, which meant she would not be burdened by guilt for being away from home. “Basically when I left my parents were like, ‘you’re on your own, we’re happy you’re going but we aren’t in a place financially where we can help,’ and I understood that.” Although Darlane would have attended college if it were not for sports, she knew that tennis and her high grades were the key: “what made it affordable to go was that I had that athletic scholarship.”

Moving to the American south was revelatory, although not in ways Darlene had anticipated. The head women’s tennis coach, who had recruited Darlane, was let go just prior to Darlene’s arrival. “We didn’t know who the tennis coach was going to be until a couple weeks after school started,” she remembered. In addition to the coaching staff confusion, once at Samford Darlane experienced “culture shock” on and off the court.

Samford was a primarily white institution with the exception of a few African-American athletes. Darlane remembered, “I was the only brown girl on my team and um, I don’t know, I feel like I stood out. And just understanding that my realities, my economic

253 realities, were very different from the people there. Even the girls on the team, I made these beautiful relationships with them and I love them right, but they were very privileged, like their views of the world were privileged.” For Darlane, her teammates

“were a support, but our commonality was tennis, it was not necessarily about the color of my skin or anything. It was tennis, that was what we did. So they were basically like my family, friends when I was there.” In addition to her tennis community, Darlane sought refuge with the maintenance staff at Samford, the workers who would understand her background and her outlook on life. “There has been a huge influx of Indigenous people from Mexico to Alabama that are like busboys, or cleaning or they do the landscaping, they do a lot of that kind of work and so at the campus you saw them cleaning and landscaping. And so they [other students and faculty] would relate me to them, right, but not understand how I was at this $22,000 a year institution. They were kind of like my relatives cleaning and landscaping.” With these unexpected stereotypes affecting her daily life and relationships, Darlane began to see how the world could categorize her and, while it provided her with opportunities, it also showed her place in it in a thousand little ways. It was a labeling that Darlane neither welcomed nor accepted, for it negated who she was as an individual and as an athlete.

Although the university categorized her as Hispanic and “that’s kind of a big issue”, Darlane said “I’m an Indigenous person, right, but even then the Hispanic was like 1% of the university.” Darlane felt she received a lot of confused “stares” around campus, “I always got the question from people, like, ‘what are you?’ I’m me

[laughing].” While in high school, Darlane had turned to her family whenever identity

254 issues or cultural blindness had arisen and she had been comforted by the support of her coach. Now, that support network and Darlane’s parents were hundreds of miles away and, unfortunately, the “new” Samford coach was racist, ignorant, and a bigot. As it happens all too often, this coach took her uncomfortableness in dealing with cultural or racial difference out on the individual she saw as different and with whom she did not know how to behave. She stigmatized Darlane as an Indigenous person by making her the butt of jokes, a way to undermine confidence and harass the racialized individual into failure and marginalization. “Because I also speak Spanish, my coach would make fun of me a lot. She would make fun of me, like make racist comments and you know at that time I kind of felt like, she’s my coach. You know I understood that power dynamic, that she could dispose of me or do whatever she wanted so I knew that I just needed to keep my mouth shut and take it out on the court and not say anything to her.” Darlane’s response was all too common for victims of intentional harassment and it took a personal toll; she felt used and ridiculed by her coach.

One other time we were at these tennis courts where it was like this Native man from Mexico cleaning the courts and she wanted me to like, translate for her into Spanish. Just stupid things she would say, like ‘you’re not cleaning correctly’, she was just laughing, like ‘you need to clean this, you forgot to pick up these balls’. I don’t know, like just making comments that were not necessary. So I was like, I’m not going to say anything you are saying to him.

Darlane’s response to being used by the victimizer was an important passive-resistance strategy that has been employed by colonized peoples for centuries. Unfortunately, it still lets the victimizer/abuser’s misused power go unchecked, but it allowed Darlane to continue her education without threat.


For Darlane, the influence of both “good” and “bad” coaches had an impact on not only her tennis skills and academic successes, but more importantly on who she is as an Indigenous woman. The racism and cultural blindness of the entire student body could have affected her as well, but she realized what was happening and fought the stereotyping, especially as it related to sexuality. She encountered the misconception of

‘the brown skinned woman as whore’ more than once. “Because I was not white, people saw me as [if] I’d be easy or they could hook up with me and that sort of thing and I’m like ‘No, that’s not what I do’. So because I was a woman of color, [they were always] just thinking I had different values in the way I conducted myself. I became super aware.” Darlane not only became conscious of her surroundings, but also looked within herself for strength, thus becoming more conscious of her Mexican heritage and making it visible to others. “Up to that point too, I never listened to Spanish music, I never had any cultural art or anything like that while I was there. I like plastered my walls with paintings, art or music and stuff like, ‘this is who I am’.” Interestingly, it was not necessary for her to bring her Indigenous heritage in this instance; however, it does not mean that because it was not overtly displayed, it was not there. Being away from home and from her natal culture, Darlane sought comfort in knowing the connections she had with her Indigenous roots. Discussing the issues with her parents, who luckily are very insightful people, also helped . They knew how to give her strength and pride when others were trying to undermine it. After her first semester, Darlane’s father took her on a trip to “Mexico City, right to like take me to the Ruins and like just to get me to feel proud of where I came from and like this great legacy of people….To bond with my Dad

256 and to really see that I come from a line of people that you know did great things.” In essence, being away from home and experiencing the harsh realities of ignorance and racism heightened Darlane’s cultural identity. “So that awakening for me and of myself as an Indigenous person started at that point. And then when I would come home I would go to the Pueblo with my Dad. Because I feel connected there. I feel like I’m rooted. You know like this is where my family has been for thousands of years.”

After Darlane’s freshmen year of playing tennis, which despite the inequalities she experienced she thoroughly enjoyed, her coach suddenly “let her go” from the team.

“She let go anybody who had just gotten signed and said, ‘I’m going to revamp the team.

If you are a freshman or sophomore, I’m cutting you and bringing in other players.” Not only was this unexpected, it was also too late in the school year to transfer to another university, without having to redshirt for a year. “So when she had that conversation with me, oh my goodness, it was like, my world went upside down. I worked really hard, I busted my ass…And it was too late.” Although Darlane was heartbroken and loved tennis, she knew she might have to give up her dream of continuing going to college. “I either have to go to community college in Tucson, or I have to go back and fight my case, which is what I did. I said it was unfair the way she waited until the very last minute. So, she had to pay for another year for me to stay there. It gave me time to figure out what I wanted to do. Because for them it would look good that I was a person of color, rather than black or white at their institution.” Darlane won her fight. Although she only played one year of collegiate tennis at Samford, her education was funded through her sophomore year. Despite the hardships she experienced and the enmity of an insecure

257 and likely inexperienced person who should not have been hired as a coach, Darlane concluded, “yes, I loved playing tennis. It was, like I don’t know how to explain this, but it was like growing up here in the US and with my schooling that I didn’t have a lot of confidence. And tennis helped me build that up, build up that confidence and be sure of myself.”

Darlane was sure of herself and what she wanted. After her second year at

Samford, she decided it was time to move home as a feasible option to continue her education. She transferred to the University of Arizona where she finished her Bachelor’s in Philosophy. Although she opted not to continue her tennis collegiate career, she still has a passion for tennis and continues to live a very active lifestyle. “When you are in tennis, like college, playing a sport, it’s a whole different, a whole other level of fitness….When I play [today] I feel like I come alive…you identify with the ball and the racquet and it’s an extension of you.”

Darlane has taken the discipline and training regimen she learned playing college tennis and made sport and physical activity conducive to her lifestyle today. “I run, I run a lot…But also I see that being active, living an active lifestyle is an antidepressive…being active and being outside really just I guess allows you to be in a better emotional and mental state.” Darlane also tries to exemplify positive behavior for her children and community. “I put my kids into sports…they mirror that positive behavior…And I think once people feel that high, it’s addicting…It’s just sharing that enthusiasm with people about feeling good.”


Darlane is currently in her second year of a doctoral program in Education, with an emphasis on Language, Reading, and Culture at the University of Arizona. She has had time to reflect upon her experience at Samford: “I was put in an environment where I almost had to explain to people who I was. And that is actually the place where I started to identify as a Chicana…affirming that your ancestors were Indigenous.” This is not an uncommon attitude for insightful and reflexive people who, nurtured in a very safe environment, experience for the first time an atmosphere of cultural blindness. People’s ignorance and constant questions demonstrating ignorance, their desire to learn without knowing how to ask or incorporate new information about cultural difference and pluralistic heritage can create issues for the recipient. Luckily, this made Darlane stronger as an individual and a fighter for social justice. It made her aware of the job that needed to be done.

She also has some fundamental suggestions for colleges and universities. “Foster an environment that is conducive…even bringing students in and making them feel like they have something to contribute to the school. And it’s more than just athletics. For me,

I see it as almost like a social justice issue. So if you have really good runners in all these different Indigenous communities, why wouldn’t you look at that? It is part of history.”

She also recognizes the importance of paving the way for future athletes. “Indigenous athletes that made it right. Show others what the process is like and if they are really serious, how to get there. And why not us? Who can more understand and relate to not just the struggles, but the process to playing sports and going to college?” It is the

259 journey and the undertaking, the sense of achievement that is part of her Indigenous heritage. This is what makes strong and determined men and women.

I agree with Darlane and am grateful for her story. She not only expresses how sport afforded her access to higher education, but also exemplifies that once the collegiate sport experience is over, there is ample opportunity to utilize the many tools and life lessons sport has to offer. “Sports are awesome. I started playing like with the LRC

[Doctoral department] team, like with volleyball and that sort of stuff. Like it’s really weird, like you start to feel so good about being a part of a team.” Sports tell you that you belong there. You have made the right choices with your life.

II. April Clairmont:You know what drove me. I knew the statistics or how people looked at Native American athletes who went into college. A lot of them just drop out the first year. I don’t want to be that statistic… that was always in the back of my mind.

Growing up as a little girl on the Navajo reservation in Ganado, New Mexico,

April Clairmont was passionate about two things: volleyball and school. April’s mother is Navajo while her father is Lakota from the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota, but she has always called Ganado home. Now, a 34 year old mother of three, April has come full circle and relishes her role as a mother, teacher, and volleyball coach in her home on the reservation. She aspires to be like the role models who inspired her to follow her athletic and academic dreams. April was introduced to volleyball through her older sister, who played volleyball for Yellow Pike Community College in New Mexico. “She would take me to the parking lot and tie my hands together and she would hit the ball at me so she kind of got me started. My role-model is my sister, she was always my number one

260 supporter. When we went to Ganado, I had a coach in third grade. Volleyball became my whole life…I got started about eight years old.” Although April stated that she “just fell in love with volleyball ever since I started, that is all I did,” her academic success tells a different story. April finished Salutatorian of her high school class; “I knew in high school what I wanted to do after college. I was very driven. I wanted to be a teacher, I already knew that.”

Despite her success in volleyball and school, growing up with a single mother was not always easy. “Yes, I had a lot of challenges; my mom became a single parent between my eighth grade and freshmen year. My dad moved back up to Rosebud but I did everything I could to keep positive and keep going.” Volleyball was a savior for her during these difficult times. “I was constantly, constantly active. I never took a season off.” April learned discipline, drive, and positive thinking through her time on the volleyball court. These qualities were revealed during April’s high school years. She played both club volleyball and for the Ganado high school team under her coach, Rich

Folley, who had a positive influence on her career. “In junior high I played local tournaments…older people would always ask me to play on their team, so I did. I played club volleyball, which was a year round thing. In high school I was on the varsity team when I was a freshman…in the middle of the season I took the place of [one of] the senior starters.” April continued to excel through her high school volleyball career as she gained experience and confidence. “My sophomore year we were state runner up…my junior year we were state champions. Came up short my senior year but along the way I was on the alternate tournament team for state. In the local newspaper, Navajo Times, I

261 was the player of the year two years in a row. I was nominated for All-American in high school my senior year, I would say I was successful.”

April’s accolades did not come without hard work and large aspirations and goals.

Self-recruitment in the form of attending camps and creating highlight videos are avenues that high school students take in order to be seen by university coaches. “When I was a freshman, one of my dreams was to play college volleyball. My freshman year I went to camp, I went to camps every summer. I really tried to get my name out there.” High school coaches are very critical in the course of this process; lucky, April had a great deal of support. “Between my junior and senior year I went to the NAU volleyball camp and the coaches were pretty surprised [at] this Native who could play, so I didn’t think that I would get into Division I. But my coach, I guess [he was] putting video and everything out and he knew some people from the university, so that is how I got my foot in the door. It didn’t make it too much of a sacrifice. I just did what I was supposed to do.” Both

April and her coach actively attempted to find her a place as a collegiate volleyball player and were ultimately successful. New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New

Mexico, a Division II school in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, offered April both an academic and an athletic scholarship.

Despite April’s excitement at pursuing her passion for volleyball in college, she struggled being away from home. “I went a year and a half at New Mexico Highlands

University and had some issues as far as administration. They ended up ripping [firing] our coaches and at that moment I was like, I don’t want to play volleyball anymore, I don’t want to be here. I was so far away from home.” Being five hours from home and

262 having an unexpected coaching staff were not the only issues April faced at New Mexico

Highlands. “I was involved in a Title IX lawsuit against the University administration. I went there to make a point and stand up for female athletes.” In 1997, April and her teammates filed a lawsuit against New Mexico Highlands University alleging violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. April felt first-hand the sexism that still exists in collegiate sports: “The women’s soccer and volleyball team, no one would come support us…things wouldn’t be clean in the gym…we would get the handicap bus on our long travels to South Dakota or Nebraska…The men’s basketball and football team were just treated better.” April and her teammates were aware of the favoritism the

Athletic Director showed to male athletes: “He never went to any of our games, or knew any of our names.” It wasn’t, however, until the Athletic Director suddenly fired her coach and the women’s soccer coach that the athletes took a stance. “It was just all of a sudden, they were not going to coach anymore. So I was a plaintiff and we ended up winning the case. The school tried to settle out of court and give me $10,000 if I wouldn’t say anything…but I wanted to stand up for what is right.” April and her volleyball and soccer sisters won the case against the University and, not only received monetary support, but also and more importantly stood up for gender equality in collegiate sport.

Although April’s volleyball career at New Mexico Highlands ended, she stated, “I really wanted to stay in [school] because of my family. I wanted to be a good role-model and my dream was to go back to Ganado and coach and set the stage for the younger athletes and every time I would think this is too hard, I want to quit, I would hear in the back of my mind, I can’t quit I’ve got to keep going. And like I said, I didn’t want to be

263 another statistic, another Native American dropping out.” The struggles April faced during her first year and a half of college did not deter her from her dream. “I moved to

Flagstaff and I knew volleyball was my thing and so I contacted my coach [at Northern

Arizona University] I was already good friends with by then, and asked if I could do a type of walk on.” April’s persistence afforded her a spot on the team the following year, after red-shirting (being a part of the practice squad) for a semester. During her junior year, April received a Navajo Nation’s scholarship, but struggled financially her senior year, so got a job at Wal-Mart. “One day at Wal-Mart I was working in the back and my

NAU volleyball coach, her name is Kelly Fleeba, she came and said you can quit your job, you are going to get a free ride your senior year.” A full ride volleyball scholarship to a Division I school allowed April to focus more on her academics and get the most out of her experience as a student athlete.

In spite of the unexpected need to stand up for women’s rights in New Mexico,

April loved her whole college experience. “Yes, I absolutely loved it. Getting up at five in the morning, doing a workout, it was just nonstop volleyball for me and I still continued to carry the academic part of it as well. That wasn’t a struggle, I am not one of those partiers who just go to college and party. That’s not who I am and not who I was raised to be. So I was very focused in college.” April recalls that while at NAU she was supported as both a female and a Native American athlete. April’s coach and team were not only aware of her Native heritage, but welcomed and supported who she is as a

Navajo woman and where she comes from. “We actually held a preseason volleyball practice at Ganado High School. We got in our van and we drove from Flag to Ganado

264 and my coach ended up having a NAU practice right there. So we got to see the high school students and others in the community were actually able to see a practice session.”

There were no other Native women on her team, yet she befriended RaeAnne West, a

Navajo girl who played basketball for NAU. She also remembers playing against other

Native women, particularly Nanabah Brewer, who played for the University of New


April’s senior year was filled with both athletic and scholarly achievements. “My senior year I was the most inspirational player on my team...we were the first, in 1999 the first what do you call it, berth in the NCAA tournament. Our first round we ended up playing the North Carolina Tar Heels. We got spanked but you know what, we still went there and it was fun. We got championship rings and I am still wearing mine how many years later. And ten years later, which was in 2009, my team and I we got inducted into

NAU’s Hall of Fame. So I guess you could say I am a Hall of Famer, I have a plaque and everything.” In 1999, April earned her Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and began student teaching in Ganado, and has been teaching ever since. April taught six years at the Ganado Middle School and coached as well. “After college I just wanted to coach. I love coaching volleyball.” Five years ago, April and her three children moved to

Tuba City, where she continues to teach and coach at the Tuba City Boarding School.

“We focus on fundamentals. I believe in getting the right fundamentals at the start.” April is currently coaching her daughter on a club volleyball team and strives to support her through sport and education. “They [Tuba City] provide a lot of programs for kids, basketball, soccer, health prevention diabetes programs…That is one positive thing out

265 here in Tuba; I know in Ganado we didn’t have that [youth programs] there.” April strives to be a role model not for only her children, but also her students and athletes.

“I would hope that I’m a role-model for some of these kids. A lot of them still don’t know that I played volleyball. So I’m like, you want to see my championship ring kind of thing, you want to see my plaque, those kind of things.” April’s fulfillment as a role model is evident through her willingness to better herself. “I would define myself as a self-driven person. Challenges are something that I love to pursue. I feel that I’ve met all my dreams that I have set for myself and now I am looking for something more…I also put God first…he is my Savior, I am very thankful for Him, I guess that would define me and my family.”

Volleyball is still an important aspect of April’s identity: “although my athleticism has changed…having three kids [laughing]…my heart and my soul is still pretty much the same.” While volleyball allowed her the opportunity to aspire, April recognizes that a lot of Native athletes struggle to compete in college. She challenges not only the athletes, but also the coaching staff in making themselves visible and that takes extra effort. “Because these colleges don’t really go out and recruit Native Americans. I think we as Native Americans have to do our part to try to get in…I think coaches should take you [Native athlete] and talk to colleges, get involved with sending these student athletes different places.”

American Indian athletes do experience many difficulties in pursuing college, but they also face challenges once at school. April believes there are many factors that impact why athletes do not stay in college. She recognizes that awareness and self-discipline are

266 both very important when creating a pathway towards collegiate sports. “Yes, more awareness and I think even families if the coaches aren’t doing what they need to do, then the parents need to step in [and] say okay, I am going to record my child this game and do this for them, [this] kind of thing. I think a lot of them [Native student athletes] think, oh I am in college now and I can party and I can do this, so I guess self-discipline [is important].” April more than once acknowledged the importance of role models and family support, “I know a lot of kids, even the kids I work with [who] don’t have the family support at home. So I guess it is just very fortunate for those of us who have completed college, who have the home life.”

April is grateful for not only her family support, but also for the other Native role models who are working towards creating a channel for Native athletes to pursue a sport in college. “I know that Nanna [Nanabah Brewer] being Native American and being at

Haskell I know that she has a lot of that same passion that I do trying to get a lot of these…always trying to recruit Native American population.” Luckily, former Native collegiate athletes have the experience and knowledge to foster future generations. It is clear that April’s journey through sport and education has not been hers alone.

You know what drove me also was I knew the statistics or how people looked at Native American athletes who went into college and a lot of them just drop out the first year. They go back home and…one thing

[people] say ‘oh you are going to drop out and have kids’ and that kind of thing and I never did. I said “oh my-gosh. Now I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be that statistic, I don’t want to be that person that failed at it again,” you know, that kind of thing. That has really pushed me all the times I did have a lot of struggles. I really struggled and there were times when I felt I can’t do this anymore but I kept thinking that was always in the back of my mind.


April’s career and character have always been infused with an internal, self-motivating drive to succeed, not only for herself, but for her community, family, and children. She demonstrates self-confidence through her life choices, and discipline in her determination to make the most of those choices.

III. RaeAnne West: “I’m supposed to be a role-model and supposed to show these people which way to go and that it’s doable and my thinking was everything I did through college was for my Native people, my Native youth.”

Every once in a great while, a hero emerges in a community who both inspires and entertains, who leads through both her words and actions. For one Navajo community that hero is RaeAnne West, who became a familiar face to the basketballcrazed Navajo Nation. Window Rock Scout fans will forever remember RaeAnne West for her fierce determination inside the lane that helped lead her teams to four straight

Arizona state championships during her high school career. Her senior year, RaeAnne led the Lady Scouts to a 23-3 record, was selected to the All-State team, named the 3A-North

Player of the Year for the second time, and received All-American honors. She averaged

24 points per game, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists during the season. She was also the only player in Window Rock and Arizona prep history to play on four state championship teams. Besides her athletic ability, RaeAnne was a strong high school student, graduating with high honors, and a 3.4 GPA. “There’s a lot of young kids out there and I want to let them know how it feels [to be state champions] since I know how it feels. I want them to be able to share that feeling. It’s a good feeling because all these little kids come up to me and ask for my autograph, that makes me feel good knowing that they’re looking up to me, so that makes me want to set an example for them.”


Growing up in Porcupine, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation, RaeAnne had role models who led by example. Now, as a 33 year-old woman, RaeAnne remembers the support and encouragement to pursue school and sport that she received from her family.

“When I was younger, I used to sit with my Dad and watch sports, sports center, ESPN and one day they were talking about scholarships to play basketball and all kinds of sports. They had a special on it and I watched it and saw that you could get your college education paid for if you get one of these athletic scholarships, so I said to my Dad, ‘I’m going to get one of those, watch’.” Not only did RaeAnne’s parents motivate her through words of encouragement, they were also standout athletes and sports fans. “We went to all the tournaments with my parents and my Dad played softball in high school and football, but my Mom is the one who played softball at the collegiate level. She played at the University of Oregon; she got to play in the World Series for Softball during her time.

Pretty cool.” Sports were a prominent piece of RaeAnne’s upbringing, so she believes:

“It’s [sport] just in my blood. We are just an all-around athletic family.” RaeAnne laughed as she stated that she has been playing sports “since the day I was born,” because her mother went into labor at one of her father’s softball games.

The love for sports that RaeAnne felt from her parents also trickled down to her siblings. “My brother plays, my sister plays, she plays for a small college (she got a volleyball scholarship), my brother got a partial baseball scholarship so it kind of runs in the family.” RaeAnne’s brother, Alan West, was a standout basketball player at Window

Rock high school, and everyone expected RaeAnne to follow in his footsteps. When Alan graduated from high school, RaeAnne was an incoming freshmen and she remembers, “it

269 was like, ‘here, you take over.’” RaeAnne’s passion for basketball was not only a “calling from the court,” as she put it; she also had an internal desire to stay healthy. “I lost my grandmother to diabetes and kidney failure and that is just something I decided wasn’t going to happen to me, and my Mom always had full meals with the vegetables…I want to live to be 100. I want to do what I’ve got to do to make sure I’m going to be here for a long time.” Sport allowed RaeAnne to not only pursue her passion, but also live a physically active and healthy lifestyle. At the age of six, RaeAnne began playing volleyball, softball, and basketball. When she was twelve, she began practicing against older women when her aunt would take her to basketball tournaments, and that is when her love for basketball heightened. She was offered a scholarship for all three sports, “but basketball was my passion so I wanted to get a basketball scholarship.”

RaeAnne’s work ethic on the basketball court and in the classroom caught the eye of numerous universities, which were vying for her talents. They recruited her from as far away as Louisiana Tech and as close as Mesa, Scottsdale, Eastern Arizona, Central

Arizona, as well as Northern Arizona University. RaeAnne believes it was her ability to play both inside the paint, as well as in the guard position that earned her a complete scholarship to Northern Arizona University (NAU). In an interview with The

Independent, a newspaper based in Gallup, New Mexico, RaeAnne commented on her recent decision to attend NAU, “I had been looking at NAU for a long time. I like their physical therapy program and talked with the new coach, Charley Turner Thorne. It sounds like she has a lot of the same goals that I had and I had a lot of the same goals that she had.”


RaeAnne signed her letter of intent to play for the Lady Lumberjacks at the

Fighting Scouts Fieldshouse in Fort Defiance, the site of numerous victories for RaeAnne and her Lady Scout teammates. The signing took place with her three main supporters: her parents Richard West and Melinda Anderson-West seated next to her, and the Scouts’ head coach Jimmy Skeet sitting behind her. RaeAnne gives much of the credit for her success to her parents who brought her up with a combination of support, discipline, and love. “It was mainly my parents. They kept talking to me, telling me to stay in school.” In an interview at RaeAnne’s letter of intent signing, her father said, “I told her all these years that nothing is impossible. You just put your mind to it, study hard and work hard.

For her sports, I just told her to ‘play hard and you never know, you may get that opportunity’. And sure enough, she’s getting that opportunity” (The Independent, May 2,

1995. Pg. B-4). RaeAnne’s mother was equally supportive, “I think parents have to really pay attention to their kids in order for them to achieve in something. Because you really have to back them up, you have to really support them. The location [of NAU] is really great. I think she’ll do really good there” (The Independent, May 2, 1995. Pg. B-4).

It was not only RaeAnne’s parents, however, who served as a source of support and encouragement. Coach Lester Kincell took RaeAnne under his wing as a young girl, and introduced her to the world of basketball. “I was one of the lucky ones cause Lester

Kincell introduced me to the game [basketball]…he was the guy who took care of the youth basketball…he taught us the game and took us all over the nation for tournaments and just the experience.” RaeAnne credits Coach Kincell for introducing her to the possibility of playing college basketball. “Kincell took us to the tournaments like the


AAU tournament…the colleges will go watch you play even at the AAU tournaments and so Coach Kincell was the one who actually started helping me with recruiting.”

Although RaeAnne was fortunate to have a coach like Kincell to assist her, she notes that this is not common enough: “I don’t see enough recruiting going on for the Native athlete.” RaeAnne’s high school coach did not express the same dedication in helping her pursue basketball in college as Kincell had. “Through high school I was a four time state champion, you know we took state all four years of my high school career and you know all this stuff, two time Player of the Year whatever, all this stuff that was going on [but] my high school coach didn’t help me I don’t think as much as he should have or could have. He kind of just took in the success of it.” In other words, he did not see the successes as opportunities to move forward and to use for the advancement of his players as individuals. He did not want to help with the hard work of recruitment.

Luckily for RaeAnne, her mother stepped in and facilitated RaeAnne’s process towards college. “My Mom did all of my recruiting, yeah she followed up with coaches, she did my paperwork, she did my Clearinghouse, she did everything.” Fortunately,

RaeAnne’s mother was familiar with the importance of being seen by college coaches, and the structure and dynamics of college sports. This, however, did not come without sacrifices for her, a common feature for any parent of a young person who is outstanding at any endeavor, regardless of ethnicity or heritage. Parents must devote themselves to their gifted child. “My parents were coming from a small Rez, there had to be sacrifice with them. We had to go down to Phoenix every other weekend for practice, that was two hours of practice Friday, two hours of practice Saturday and that was a five hour

272 drive for us from the Rez.” The time required meant that her mother had “to quit [her dearly loved] softball so I could make those practices. A lot of the recruiting and a lot of the paper work was [done by] my Mom.” For some parents, this becomes a full time job.

As RaeAnne sat down to sign her acceptance to play basketball for NAU, the four state championship trophies were placed on the table. It was also fitting that the signing took place following a parade to celebrate the state championships won the previous season by both the Lady Scouts and the Scout boys. The moment that pen was put to paper, a lot of pressure was lifted from RaeAnne. “It felt great. It feels like a bunch of weight was taken off my shoulders. All the frustration and stuff with all these coaches calling, now I can just say, ‘I’m going to NAU.’” RaeAnne ultimately decided to play for NAU because it was close to home and she respected the school’s coaching staff. “I wanted to play DI ball but I knew if I went to Louisiana Tech that would be too far from home and NAU had just gotten Kelly Turner-Thorn…an awesome coach.” This also meant that her family could continue to be involved in her efforts and her successes. “My parents made all the home games at NAU all the years I played and it is a three hour drive.” Although Coach Turner-Thorn only worked at NAU for one year, RaeAnne learned a great deal from her both on and off the court. After RaeAnne’s freshman year,

“the coach who took over was Meg Sanders…she coached me for the duration of my time there the rest of my three years.”

Both of these coaches were instrumental in her academic and athletic success at

NAU. RaeAnne was only 16 when she graduated from high school—having skipped a grade due to academic excellence—so her “freshman year…was a culture shock being


[from] a little Rez school and I went to college and almost lost my scholarship my first semester…I ended the semester with a 1.0.” The problem was not knowing how to study for college courses, something the reservation high school had not taught her.

Fortunately, she had chosen her college well, for the NAU coaching staff placed academics above athletics, and knew that the main purpose of pursuing higher education was to earn a degree. “I had to get ten hours of study hall [per week] just with the basketball program. My coaches stepped up and after that [bad first] semester the following semester they volunteered their time to tutor me and whatever needed to get my GPA back up. The second semester they got me back up to right around, um well, my cumulative was 2.6 or 2.8. After that, they would always pull me aside and ask me,

‘do you want us to get you a tutor, is everything okay, do you want to talk?’ They were always real supportive of me because I was so young.” RaeAnne raised her GPA to a 3.2 and maintained good grades throughout the rest of her college career.

RaeAnne also drew strength from her teammates. “My friends were my teammates and they were your family and they were your this and they were your that. It was all with your team.” RaeAnne and her family were able to reciprocate for the support that her teammates and coaches expressed at NAU. During RaeAnne’s senior year, her parent’s hosted a Navajo Taco Dinner for the Lady Lumberjacks on their way to play the

University of New Mexico. RaeAnne was able to teach her team about where she had grown up and relate why she took such pride in her Native identity. On the Navajo

Nation, basketball signifies strength and community. For RaeAnne, it was about making both her family and community proud. During the difficult and tiresome times, she would

274 often hear her father’s voice say, “Don’t you want them [Native youth] to know that it’s doable?” RaeAnne remembered all the Native youth who looked up to her during her high school years, and knew she could not fail. “I’m supposed to be a role model and supposed to show these people which way to go and that it’s doable and my thinking was everything I did through college was for my Native people, my Native youth.”

As a Navajo woman, RaeAnne’s heritage and love for her people were what continued to inspire her in school and athletics. “I am a proud Native and I am going to represent anything and everything that I do. It is motivation for me just being Native because we are so small but yet we can make a big difference somewhere. I try to keep myself grounded with where I come from. I try not to forget where I come from.” As the only Native American on her team, RaeAnne never experienced any racism, but understood that she represented all Native people.

It was motivating for me because the recent coaching staff never had a

Native American on the team. I just kept telling myself, being the only

Native on the team I need to represent that was my thinking through the whole thing was you know maybe I had a bad practice and somebody was tearing me up, “Come on, step it up. You are supposed to be representing your people and you are playing sluggish defense, come on.” I was always using Natives as just—um—it wasn’t racial or anything, it was just inside my head like that’s why I was there to represent. I just felt like it was my job to show what Natives can do and the talents we have. And what kind of heart we have for the most part.

That kind of striving is one way in which athletes fight racism and stereotyping. RaeAnne was raised Catholic and in the Native American Church, so her faith, prayers, and “a whole community behind me, that support system,” contributed to her successful four years at NAU.


RaeAnne earned her Bachelor’s degree in physical education with an emphasis on coaching and minor in health in 2000, and her accolades speak for themselves. Long hours of hard labor, focus, and a tremendous work ethic paid dividends for RaeAnne throughout her career at NAU. Her freshman year she received the “Coach’s Award,” her sophomore the “Most Improved Player,” and her junior year the Big Sky Conference

“Player of the Week” and Big Sky Conference “Co-Outstanding Sixth Player.” Although her first three years were impressive, post season honors poured in following her senior year. She earned Big Sky Conference “Player of the Week,” Big Sky All-Conference

First Team (unanimous selection), Big Sky Tournament All-Tournament Team, and was honored as Northern Arizona University’s Most Valuable Player. Her MVP year,

RaeAnne averaged 13.6 points per game, grabbed 4.9 rebounds, and blocked 19 shots per game. She made 52 percent of her shots from the floor and 80 percent from the free throw line.

RaeAnne’s talent on the basketball court is reflected in these recognitions, yet what she is proudest of is her service off the court. While at NAU, she was an

Ambassador for the Navajo Nation, serving as a guest speaker at several high schools and boarding school sports banquets around the reservation. Upon graduating from college,

RaeAnne wanted to coach, but unfortunately when she returned home, she had a hard time finding work. After searching for a coaching job, she realized like many others that earning a living would require her to reside outside the Four Sacred Mountains. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she coached and got into the Rent to Own business, then she decided to relocate to Oklahoma and pursue another basketball career.


She tried out for a professional team and was selected in the seventh round by the Kansas

City Legacy in the annual National Women’s Basketball League professional draft on

December 22, 2001. She impressed the Kansas City officials, as she had her high school and collegiate coaches.

RaeAnn received a lot of support and encouragement from American Indian organizations around the county. posted on their online blog,

“RaeAnne West was drafted in the 8 th

round of the NWBL draft on December 22 nd

. She will be playing for the Kansas City Legacy. She played college ball at NAU in Flagstaff,

AZ. She’s currently living in El Reno, Oklahoma, and working for the Cheyenne-

Arapaho Tribes as the Fitness Coordinator for the Diabetes Wellness Program. You go girl. I’ll be there to watch some games” (, December 31, 2001). Playing professionally was a great experience that could not be turned down. “I always dreamed of playing beyond college.”

RaeAnne’s professional experiences differed greatly from those of high school and college. Professional sports are moneymaking enterprises and she felt both a racial bias and an unwelcoming atmosphere. Where she had financial assistance, community support, and a mentoring coaching staff in college, she lacked all of these during her professional years. During this time, her maternal grandmother became ill, so RaeAnne opted to only play one year, and focus on family needs and continuing education.

Although RaeAnne only played for one season, she once again looked at her experience as motivational for Native youth. “It’s a great opportunity for me, especially for Native

Americans. I was the lone Native American selected in the draft. I want to do well. This

277 opportunity could open doors for other Native Americans. Playing professionally we give

Native Americans publicity. Native Americans love basketball and I want to expose that to the world. It will open doors for other Native Americans” (Navajo Times, Thursday,

January 17, 2002. Pg. B-2).

Today, RaeAnne continues to use sport as a motivation tool for Native youth. She lives in Florida and volunteers her time with the Muskogee reservation youth basketball camp and programs. She also plans on pursuing her Master’s degree in 2013. RaeAnne has big dreams and high aspirations for future Native athletes: “My goal too. To let more

Native athletes know what is going on and it can be done and yes, it is going to be hard work, but we are here to help.” She is a role model and provider for the future of Native youth. “What I was thinking was put [to] an all-star team together just like Mr. Kincell did with us. We had players from Gallup, players from Apache, players from Window

Rock, players from Tampa that made the drive, that made that sacrifice. I mean the parents were willingly doing it. That is what we need [to inspire more Native athletes to pursue their dreams] to incorporate and that’s kind of where I want to give back, is for the kids to see that there is a light out there and somebody is willing to help them.”

In order for Native youth to succeed in collegiate athletics, she knows that “a lot of it has to do with support, letting these kids know that they can do it. That one person who says, ‘hey, I believe in you, you can do it.’ That is all kids need to hear, ‘Hey, good job.’” Responsibility rests on multiple levels. Colleges and universities need to “recruit on the Rez. I know nobody wants to make that drive or nobody wants to do this or do that, but we have all this talent on the Rez, but none of the coaches know how to show off

278 their athletes. Nobody wants to do the hard work that is needed to get these Native kids out there…how to get these Natives seen.” RaeAnne is as much a role model for the coaches as for the youth. She also believes that the athletes themselves have to be accountable for “Natives need to realize if we want something we have to go get it, we can’t just sit back and wait for the people to hand it down to us you know, you have to earn it.” RaeAnne’s positive attitude, respectable work ethic, and willingness to provide for future Native athletes exemplify the gratitude she holds for sport and the opportunities it can provide.

IV. Ashlee Beetso: “I feel it is very important to give back to the community…serve as a role model for the youth in the community by taking the lessons learned from my experience as an athlete and starting an organization that will help the athletes overcome the obstacles that stood in my way.”

While interviewing Vincent Littleman and speaking about the lack of American

Indian collegiate athletes in the NCAA, he mentioned that I should contact a Navajo woman named Ashlee Beetso. Ashlee had recently contacted him via email, explaining how she was planning on starting a non-profit to empower more American Indian athletes to pursue Division I sports in college. A former Division I softball player herself, she experienced firsthand both the sacrifices and the rewards of playing a collegiate sport in a top division and conference. Vincent had caught her eye as she was searching for fellow ambassadors for her program. I immediately contacted Ashlee and explained her that I too had the same passion for creating a pathway for American Indian collegiate athletes to play the sport they love at the university level. Her story represents both the triumphs and heartaches of pursuing a dream. The positive yet difficult experiences Ashlee faced

279 on her journey as a Division I softball player have empowered her to lay a foundation for future Native collegiate athletes.

Ashlee Beetso is a twenty-seven year old Navajo woman who grew up and still resides in Phoenix, Arizona. Although she has family across the Navajo reservation, her parents moved to Phoenix for better employment opportunities; therefore, she calls

Phoenix home. The influence of athletics in her life started early, since all three of her older siblings played sports. “My sister played softball. I hung out with my dad at the ballpark while she was playing and ended up playing softball as well.” Ashlee was also introduced to basketball at a young age. “When I was in elementary school, I rode my bike to school with my brothers. Since I was the youngest, I had to go to school when they wanted to go to school. They wanted to get to the playground to shoot for team captain (basketball) so that meant I had to be there at that time, too. Instead of waiting around for my friends to get there, I started playing basketball, too.” Her sister was the one who introduced her to softball. Luckily, she not only fell in love with softball, she was extremely talented for her age. “I played in my school league at 6 even though 7 was the age to start playing. I began playing for a competitive summer team at the age of 8.”

Although she “chose to play sports because it was fun,” after being introduced to the competitiveness of softball, Ashlee proclaimed that playing this sport in college was her ultimate goal.

The realization of this objective did not only happen on the field, as Ashlee received the necessary critical support and inspiration along the way. In addition to the motivation and mentoring from her siblings, “my role model was my dad. He was my

280 coach and biggest supporter.” Ashlee also found enthusiasm from top collegiate softball players, and looked up to one specific woman. “Lisa Fernandez (UCLA pitcher 1990–

1993) was also a role model. I met her at a tournament in Phoenix and crossed paths with her and her pitching coach, Ernie Parker, who coincidentally was the gentlemen who gave me my first pitching lesson.” Softball soon became Ashlee’s life, as she strove to be an outstanding pitcher and one day pitch at a Division I school like her idol Lisa

Fernandez. Ashlee played softball during the school year and throughout the summer, so playing it in high school “was a natural transition from middle school and my summer league.” Ashlee played softball for an inner city high school in Phoenix where both her talent on the diamond and in the classroom shone.

Ashlee knew that in order to compete in softball, she needed to perform well academically. She took her classwork very seriously and graduated from high school as a junior with a 3.85 GPA. Her success on the softball field mirrored her scholastic accomplishments.

I was a very successful high school player despite playing for an inner city high school. I was able to measure my success by my earned run average

(pitching), my batting average (hitting) and my on base percentage (how effective I was at being a leadoff hitter). As a pitcher, it’s easy to control a game’s tempo and outcome if you can keep the hitters on the opposing team off balance; I was also able to win games with an inner city high school with a lot fewer summer league players than other teams we played by keeping the hitters off balance.

Since, “at the age of 6, I wanted to go attend UCLA and play softball like Lisa

Fernandez,” it was natural for Ashlee to pursue softball in college. However, graduating as a junior in high school left Ashlee with some difficult decisions pertaining to softball.

For recruiting purposes, collegiate coaches are only legally allowed to contact possible

281 recruits beginning their junior year in high school. This not only left Ashlee as a “young” freshmen in college, but also “as a junior graduating high school, I had one less year of being recruited.” Despite the minimal recruitment period, “the junior colleges in

Maricopa county were interested [in having Ashlee play for them] and some smaller schools in California.”

Instead of attending one of the smaller colleges that were interested in her, “I decided to try my luck at Arizona State University (ASU) as a walk on. I knew I was good enough to play at a Pac-10 school. It was not UCLA, but still a Pac-10 school.”

After her freshman year at ASU, Ashlee’s talent became evident, and she made the roster for that school’s women’s softball team, one of the top in the country.

At ASU, “nothing made me happier than having the ball in the middle of the circle controlling the game.” Although Ashlee knows that she “definitely” would have pursued college even without being an athlete, playing softball enhanced her experience both academically and physically. “Playing softball made me focus. My first year at ASU was spent training for tryouts. In college the pitching mound is moved back three feet (3’) from 40 feet (40’) to forty-three feet (43’) and since I only have a 5’7” build, I felt it important that I strengthen my arm.” Playing softball at ASU did not only encourage athletic discipline, it also fostered an increase in academic performance. “My grades were better while on the team.” During the 2003-2004 academic year, Ashlee pitched for the

Division I, Pac-10 Conference, Arizona State University. Although softball was demanding and she did not receive an athletic scholarship, Ashlee’s academics excelled just as they had in high school. She also found time to be “involved in Native American

282 business and engineering organizations. I often volunteered to help with events geared towards incoming freshmen.”

Through her involvement with Native American organizations on campus, Ashlee

“was able to give back to the Native American community in college.” Ashlee also found comfort in another Native American on her team who was from Oklahoma. Despite her love for the game and success as a pitcher, Ashlee was suddenly cut from the softball team her junior year. Although this was heart shattering, she did not let the devastating news crush her ego. Her passion to continue her softball career led her to search for a new team. “I never felt like dropping out of college. I transferred schools after I was cut from the team during my junior year, but it was to continue playing.” Ashlee decided to transfer to Glendale Community College, a Division II NJCAA junior college located in

Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. Glendale was a college that had actively recruited her during high school, so they were thrilled when she contacted them, and offered her a scholarship to play softball. In spring of 2005, Ashlee returned to the mound and pitched a phenomenal season for the Gauchos. Unfortunately, due to NCAA regulations and collegiate athlete transfer rules, Ashlee was only eligible to pitch one season at Glendale.

At both ASU and Glendale, Ashlee “identified as a Native American athlete.

Being an athlete since age 6 has shaped my personality and who I’ve become today.”

Although her identity was centered on her Navajo ancestry, “I’m not sure if my coach was aware of my heritage at either ASU or GCC. Since I’m not sure my coaches were aware of my heritage, I’m also not sure if it affected our relationship on and off the

283 field.” Although Ashlee felt at the time that her sudden cut from the ASU team was partially due to her being a minority, she is still not sure why her coach let her go.

At both colleges, she experienced team camaraderie and sisterhood. However, “I think the only gender bias I experienced in softball was people assuming I was a lesbian.”

This did not affect her pitching, as she drew strength from her own skills and both her family and Native community to follow her dream. “In the Native American community,

I was known as an athlete,” and that helped her family to recognize and accept how her identity and happiness were tied to softball and, therefore, support her decisions.

Although Ashlee’s priority was softball and she sacrificed time to both practice and compete, the dedication and commitment was never viewed as a sacrifice: “my life revolved around softball while I was playing, but that’s what I worked my entire life for, so I was happy it revolved around my passion.” Her identity as a Native woman was enhanced by sport. “I took being a student-athlete very seriously. I did my best to stay away from things that would prevent me from accomplishing what I set out to achieve.

My passion was softball so it wasn’t a sacrifice [of who I am] to be all about what I worked my entire life to become.” Ashlee became a Division I softball player who, when faced with adverse conditions, did not give up on her dream of playing softball and obtaining an education in doing so. At the end of her year at Glendale, Ashlee transferred back to ASU to finish her bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies with a business and communication concentration. After graduating in 2007, she knew education was an important facet of her life, and was pertinent to both her happiness as a person and her financial security as an adult. She therefore earned her Master’s degree in nonprofit

284 studies in 2011 at ASU. She is now the assistant property manager at Parallel Capital

Partners, where her boss is very supportive of her dream to begin a nonprofit organization to encourage more American Indian athletes to compete in a university sport.

Ashlee is no longer competing at the collegiate level, and although “my life revolved around softball during college and now it doesn’t,” sport is still very much a piece of her life. Today, she plays on both a city league basketball team and a slow pitch softball team. “I enjoy my basketball leagues however [I] did not experience the same enjoyment playing slow pitch. Perhaps the level of competiveness in slow pitch is not the same as fast pitch. Or maybe I just need to start a team with people I know instead of only knowing two of the players on the team.” Ashlee continues to play sports not only to fill her competitive edge, but also to maintain her health.

Through sports, I’ve learned what my body is capable of doing and how much I can physically push myself when trying to achieve a health goal. I was in the best shape of my life while on the softball team at Arizona

State. Being in the best shape wasn’t a goal of mine at the time but it happened because I tried my best to get in the best physical shape for my sport. Now that I’m not longer in college, ‘the best shape of my life’ is a benchmark and something I can realistically compare my health to as

[now a] non- [collegiate] athlete.

Ashlee’s dream is to provide Native American people with the same health benefits a collegiate sport can offer by starting a non-profit organization. In this way, she hopes to encourage Native athletes to follow their own aspirations through sport and education.

“Increasing physical activity for youth on reservations will not only help in decreasing the percentage of obesity but it’ll help a bunch of other issues youth on reservations face like dependency issues and dropping out of school.”


Ashlee believes that athletic organizations need to emphasize sports in correlation with academics.

I’ve volunteered at Native American [basketball and baseball] tournaments where there are a bunch of elementary teams. After speaking with some of the parents about the nonprofit I intend on starting, there is a lot of interest. If I can create the ‘supply’, I’m hoping the organization will be able to support the ‘demand’. I don’t think they’re aware of all the benefits of sports/physical activity—I think it’s more whether or not it’s fun at young ages.

With parents and communities alike, awareness of the benefits sport offers is needed.

“Families can do their part in increasing American Indian collegiate athletes by stressing the importance of academics and hard work.” Responsibility also lies within

“communities [which] can help increase the number of American Indian collegiate athletes by coming together to provide a foundation for their members to achieve athletic collegiate excellence.” She also hopes to stress that “colleges and universities won’t recruit athletes unless they can perform on the field and in the classroom; this has no correlation to whether or not an individual is American Indian or not, so the importance of having a good work ethic implemented at a young age is imperative to success on collegiate fields.” Such information and support is what Ashlee intends to provide by starting a nonprofit organization for Native American athletes.

As “a strong Native American woman who is very close to my family,” Ashlee believes sports are a positive means to give back to her Native community. “During college, my focus was being the best student athlete I could be. This meant different priorities than what I have now.” Today, Ashlee’s priorities include ensuring that Native

American athletes have the opportunities she had, and providing educational and physical

286 services that will better prepare them for their journey as Native collegiate athletes. “I feel it is very important to give back to the community...serve as a role model for the youth in the community by taking the lessons learned from my experience as an athlete and starting an organization that will help the athletes overcome the obstacles that stood in my way.” Growing up, Ashlee saw a lot of Native Americans who were talented but unfortunately did not have the resources to succeed in sport. She hopes to provide both athletic and educational tools and a support system through her nonprofit organization.

It isn’t cheap to play on summer teams that are necessary to excel at whatever sport you play. Playing on these teams requires financial support, a parent who is just as dedicated as the athlete to get these athletes to practice/games/tournaments and a role model who will steer you in the right direction if you start to go off the recommended path. If you don’t have the support listed above along with the passion to succeed, chances are success as an athlete is not in your future. I hope the organization I will start can help provide the foundation that is necessary for an athlete to succeed.

There are very few Native American athletes on Division I teams, but Ashlee believes this will change when “my nonprofit [gets] off the ground and hopefully [is] doing well by August 1, 2015.” With Ashlee’s work ethic and desire, there is no doubt that she will provide both foundational and continued support for Native American collegiate athletes.

“I will do my part in getting more youth interested in sports by providing a support system for that to happen. After I do that, an athlete will need a passion that comes from within to succeed.”


V. Nanabah Sunshine Allison Brewer: “It [sports] gave me that confidence; it gave me the opportunity to have a level playing field with other non-Native people. I have really kind of utilized everything I learned in athletics into my life and it helped me inspire myself to fulfill different goals that maybe I might not have or wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Nanabah Sunshine Allison Brewer introduced me to the possibility of studying

American Indian collegiate athletes. In 2005 we were both pursuing our Master’s degree at the University of Arizona and enrolled in an American Indian higher education course.

For a final project, we were assigned to research and present a current topic regarding

American Indian students in higher education. Being the avid sports lover she is,

Nanabah presented on American Indian collegiate athletes, or I should say, the lack thereof. As she was describing her data, I noticed there had been only two American

Indian collegiate tennis players in the 2001-2002 season, myself and my brother. The low number of American Indian collegiate athletes across all sports saddened me, so I talked with Nanabah after class. I soon found out that we both not only played a collegiate sport, but also knew the possibilities sport has to offer to young people, and were perusing higher education to help Native athletes succeed. Like me, Nanabah grew up in a sports family and relied on sports as an avenue to access education.

Nanabah was first introduced to baseball in Winby Indiana, at the age of four. “I played on a baseball team when I was four or five years old. And then once my Dad got a job in Farmington, New Mexico we relocated to New Mexico and then that kind of spun off to the rest of my sports in softball, basketball and volleyball.” Nanabah believes that her father’s passion for being active influenced his parenting. He became Nanabah’s role model, a man who would take time to play catch with her and teach her the skills to

288 improve her game. “My Dad had three of us girls and then finally had a son, the fourth one after me. I think he was itching to get a son so he really got us involved in athletics.

I think that is what started me off in the athletic world.” Nanabah and her siblings were introduced to sports at a young age and supported each other with their athletic dreams.

“Getting my sisters and my brother to compete [was easy], I always had somebody to play with whether it was playing against each other or playing with each other. It was definitely very family-oriented, just really involved athletically.” Luckily, Nanabah not only loved playing sports, she was also very talented. In fourth grade, she was asked to play on a traveling Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, which opened her eyes to a whole new world. “Karl and Bernice Denali were my role models in basketball. They put together a travel team when we were in the 4 th

or 5 th

grade; it was an all Native American travel team. We travelled all over the country and made it to the national championship for AAU. One year we took 7 th

out of the nation.”

From these experiences, Nanabah was not only introduced to the fundamentals of playing sport as a young age, but also to the possibilities sport could offer her in the future. “It was really a memorable experience—the training that we went through to prepare for nationals. To play with girls at such a high level…really humbled me and gave me a different perspective of being an athlete.” She began to wonder, “what does it take to compete at a high level with great athletes?” Being influenced by a local Navajo couple who was passionate about providing opportunities for the local Navajo community “opened my eyes more about the bigger picture of evaluating yourself and where you stand amongst others your age and how do those kids end up playing at the

289 college level.” Nanabah’s father also introduced her to the possibility of playing at a more demanding level of competition. “The Olympics were going on. I can’t even remember what games but my Dad would remind me I needed to watch and see what these elite athletes were doing. He woke me up at three in the morning and said if I wanted to be playing at a high level—I think that was in 7 th

or 8 th

grade—he said, you wake up and watch them play. And I did, I would drag myself out of bed and watch them.” In 7 th

grade, Nanabah became very interested in playing volleyball when her sister

Shauna returned home from a Brigham Young University (BYU) volleyball camp. “She came back and just had so much knowledge and was so excited about all the new different skills and different techniques…She opened my eyes to the game of volleyball.”

As an adolescent, Nanabah was inspired to both play and excel in sports by her parents, siblings, and the positive influence of Navajo coaches. They exposed her to the importance of a positive work ethic, psychological strength, and how to handle pressure on and off the playing field. Once Nanabah entered high school, committed coaches continued to be a contributing factor in her athletic success. “When I got to high school I was very fortunate to have some great coaches who just really supported me. I knew that my high school coach Sam Astrada, he is now the head coach at NFA High School, came in and did some really neat things with the volleyball program. Kristen Rocky was formerly the head coach and she picked me up after my freshman year and she brought me up to the varsity team and that was a really neat experience to have been noticed and to see that my athleticism was strong enough to play with the varsity girls as a 9 th grader.” Although Kristen ended up leaving after one year, both she and Sam continue to

290 support Nanabah to this day. “He has been a continuous supporter of me to this day, a great friend. I guess I admire him because of his ability to coach, his knowledge of the game and also his love for the community. He brought the feel of volleyball that is still to this day in Farmington.”

Nanabaha has always thought of herself as a three sport athlete. Unfortunately, once she entered high school, she was unable to participate in softball, basketball, and volleyball due to schedule conflicts and time commitments. She ultimately decided to give up softball and concentrate on volleyball and basketball. Her choice proved to be fortuitous; with strong academics in high school and talent on the court, Nanabah earned both academic and athletic scholarships to college. “My parents definitely stressed academics. I think because of their example, my Dad going on and pursuing his higher degree and my Mom being an educator and they are just very passionate about education, and even my religious background, I think they really brought in or they set a standard and they taught us the core values and the principles of life. One of them was definitely hard work really in anything that you do.” Although Nanabah was not a 4.0 student, she graduated in the top 25% of her class. She also was selected for Girls State for New

Mexico, a prestigious leadership position for high school seniors.

Although Brigham Young University was Nanabah’s dream school, since both her parents graduated from there, she opted to stay close to home and to her sisters. In seventh grade Nanabah began receiving letters and information about college athletic programs. Playing a collegiate sport had been on her mind since middle school, so when the University of New Mexico took an interest in her, she jumped at the opportunity.


Nanabah had been in contact with the University of New Mexico’s volleyball coach since her junior year in high school. The coach had seen Nanabah at a volleyball camp. In April of her senior year, Nanabah sent a video and letter to the coach, who responded that “they would love to have me come to their program and be a walk on.” The coach said, ‘we don’t have any scholarships but you know if you work hard you can eventually earn one, you are treated just like anybody else on the team, you can use all the resources that all the athletes have, we just don’t have money to fund your education.’ Although Nanabah did not receive athletic financial support during her first two years at UNM, she earned a full academic scholarship, which funded her education. “My first year I was awarded the

Native American Program College of Engineers Scholarship; it is called NAPCO. It was a full-ride engineering scholarship for the University of New Mexico and then I had other

Math and Science scholarships and then I had that [athletic scholarship] for the first two years for my red shirt year and then the next year. After those three years I had a full ride volleyball scholarship.” Although Nanabah believes she would have attended college even without considering sports, she found the rigors of an athletic program useful.

“While you are in college you have criteria there you have to abide by in order to be eligible. You have to maintain a GPA. I think I would have done that anyway but there were some guidelines and that does help you stay on track or stay on course to make sure you maintain and have credits [for] your degree.”

Nanabah did receive offers from junior colleges and Division II universities, but her goal had always been to challenge herself at the highest level of competition, and that meant a Division I school. “Having a full ride and giving me the opportunity to play


Division I, to be a DI athlete, was definitely really awesome and appealing. It was close.”

Nanabah attended the University of New Mexico from 1995 to 2000, when she graduated with a Bachelor’s of science in statistics--a very challenging major. Nanabah played four years of varsity volleyball (five if you count her freshman redshirted year), and one year of basketball at the Division I, Mountain West Conference university. After her third year of playing volleyball, she decided it might be fun to try out as a walk-on for the women’s basketball team. Making the team gave her a wonderful opportunity to experience life as a two-sport collegiate athlete.

Sport not only afforded Nanabah the opportunity to earn a college degree, it also gave her an outlet to acknowledge and assert her Native identity. “Growing up in a border town [like] Farmington is pretty racist. The racial slurs and the way we were treated…when I was younger. It was tough times.” Racism was a daily reality for

Nanabah and her family. “I can recall a time when my Mom came home from running and she was really upset because people had thrown rocks or soda cans at her and said,

‘you dirty Indian, go home.’” Alcohol and gangs were also prevalent in Farmington, where both Native and non-Natives would come to buy and consume alcohol, since the bordering Navajo Nation is a dry community. “During the 90’s when gangs came through…high school kids and other people would come to Farmington to buy alcohol and would roll homeless Indians, even brutally beating and murdering. It was just bad.”

In combination with being terrified, Nanabah became both ashamed and embarrassed of her Navajo ancestry. “Sometimes I didn’t want to take claim and say I was Navajo or wouldn’t want to introduce myself in my native language.”


Nanabah was also conflicted because her father was Navajo and her mom was both Navajo and a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribe. Both spoke fluent Navajo and they raised Nanabah and her siblings as Mormon. “Growing up Mormon I would hear the language, I would hear songs, but they never really…I don’t know…traditional.

I was raised probably not very traditional like living on the reservation and I think growing up in Farmington, like I said, I was always connected and proud but sometimes it was difficult.” Although Nanabah sometimes felt stuck between two worlds, “sport gave me that sense of security, the opportunity to represent myself. And I was friends with everybody.” Nanabah applied sport to her daily life. “I think it [sport] gave me confidence, it gave me the opportunity to have a level playing field with other non-Native people. I have really utilized everything I learned in athletics into my life and it helped me inspire myself to fulfill different goals that maybe I might not have or wouldn’t have learned otherwise.” Although racism was prevalent during Nanabah’s adolescence, sport taught her to both overcome and grow from difficult situations. Sport provided Nanabah with a foundational support that, according to her, nothing else could have.

While at UNM, Nanabah had an unexpected source of help. She found encouragement, friendship, and sisterhood with a fellow Native teammate. Paula

Feathers, a Pawnee and Cherokee woman who grew up in the Zuni Pueblo of New

Mexico, became a source of comfort and motivation for Nanabah. “She and I really grew and bonded and became, well I don’t want to speak for her, but I learned so much about her culture and her ways…she knew a lot about their language and their history. She really gave me another perspective and I really learned a lot from her and she is definitely

294 an amazing woman.” Through Paula’s friendship, Nanabah’s sense of her Navajo identity grew. During numerous games, “busloads of Native kids came to Johnson Gym to watch Paula and me, and I just can remember truly understanding at that point what it means to be a role-model. That experience of seeing those young kids truly changed my life.” That experience gave Nanabah clarity and made her understand that if she truly wanted to be a leader for Native youth, she needed to have a strong sense of her Navajo identity and embrace her culture. “How could I be a true leader to my Indian people if I was ever embarrassed of who I am as a Navajo or a Navajo woman?” Today, Nanabah believes that, “Identify for me is knowing and acting and I guess carrying myself as part of who I am as a woman, as a Navajo woman, being Navajo because that is obviously a character trait that everyone notices. I think about my grandparents, my grandmothers who are deceased and just what they stood for and all of our great leaders of our Indian

Nation.” She is able to reflect back on her experiences growing up and going to college.

“Part of it is maturity and your growth and finding your journey and your calling and it is really understanding those concepts of life.”

Not only was Paula a star on the volleyball court, but she also introduced

Nanabah to her calling, coaching. “We started doing camps and clinics together in the summertime for extra money. I think that is where I ended up finding my passion for coaching. [It was] along the lines of wanting to give back to our Native communities and

[we] continue to do these camps and clinics for youngsters in our communities.”

Coaching had become a source of strength for Nanabah.


Nanabah gives tremendous credit to her volleyball coach at UNM for her support both on and off the court.

My coach is an amazing woman. She is an Olympian herself and she truly embraced New Mexico. She truly embraced the culture of New Mexico and all of the different ethnicities and traditions and you know she supported me in who I was a Navaho woman. She supported different activities, I was very involved with our Kiva Club which was our Native

American club there on campus. If I had to speak at different events she was very supportive of it and would actually encourage me to do these things.

Her coach at UNM continued to strengthen her inclination to pursue coaching after college as a career. Nanabah’s instructor helped her become a leader and introduced her to the world of coaching and sports beyond college. She nominated Nanabah for the

Olympic Academy in Greece to represent the United States Olympic committee and believed she would be a great United States representative. “In ‘98 or ‘97, I went off to

Greece—[my] first time overseas—and I ended up being [on the] US Olympic committee at the International Olympic Academy and it was amazing. It was the neatest experience and to see all these incredible people who were athletes and non-athletes who loved sports and who loved the meaning of the Olympic ideals.” As Nanabah began talking about this opportunity and the leadership qualities that her coach exemplified, she became emotional. “Sorry, I don’t want to get emotional but I was learning so much more about leadership in many shapes and forms and I was just so touched that she told me about this opportunity.” Nanabah’s coach also introduced her to USA Volleyball, an association that sponsored workshops and leadership forums at the Olympic Training

Center in Colorado Springs, which she attended. These experiences through sport at

UNM empowered Nanabah and encouraged her to pursue coaching as a profession. “It

296 changed my education because I thought I wanted to be an engineer but it changed to a more general livelihood and instilled this passion of mine in sports and within education of some sort…I really knew I wanted to be a coach.”

After realizing her dream, Nanabah assembled a team of Native women and went to the Northwestern Indigenous Games in Victoria, B.C., in 1997. The six women, including Nanabah and April Clairmont, won a Gold medal in volleyball. Although her experience was amazing, it opened Nanabah’s eyes to the unpopularity of volleyball around Indian country. Nanabah knew she wanted to go into high school coaching to give more Native kids an opportunity to play volleyball, so after graduating she took a position as a math teacher and coach at Chinle High School. “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life because I got to truly be in the heart of our Navajo

Nation, see the culture and ceremonies and things happening throughout the year, different heritages going on blessings, just everything. It was so cool to be out there.”

After one year, Nanabah accepted a job at Kirkland Central High School, which was a powerhouse in sports and five hours closer to her parents. Nanabah coached successful teams at both schools, finishing third in volleyball in the New Mexico state tournament while at Kirkland. Then, her life shifted gears. “I got married and he applied to the

Master’s program at University of Arizona…I got a coaching job at Camino High School there in Tucson and it was really a neat experience because it was my first time coaching and teaching at a non-Native institution.” During this time, Nanabah also had the opportunity to volunteer as an assistant coach for the University of Arizona’s women’s

297 volleyball team, to “shadow him [coach David Rubio] and learn all I could about being a collegiate coach.”

Although Nanabah loved coaching high school volleyball, her dream job was to coach a Native women’s college team. “I never really thought of coaching at a college until I heard more and more about Haskell. One day when I was in Tucson I called up

Judith Kipp [women’s volleyball coach at Haskell] and said, ‘Hey, when are you planning on retiring?” (laughing) and ‘How do you get that job?’ For Nanabah, Haskell

Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas was the dream location. So she began to prepare. She earned a Master’s degree in higher education from the University of Arizona to improve her chances of being hired. Since Nanabah knew coach Kipp was still a few years from retirement, she applied to over 40 Division I schools. After coaching at

Dartmouth College in New Hampshire for two years, she was accepted as the women’s volleyball coach at Division I South Dakota State. “I loved coaching college athletes at that level, how athletics and their education intertwine.” After only one year at South

Dakota State, however, a Math position opened up at Haskell. “At that time I had three kids and a husband who was thankfully able to do all of his stuff, all of his career goals

[in Kansas], and he came with me. I wanted to be a mom, I wanted to be around more often for my kids.” Nanabah believed Haskell would be a conducive place to raise her family, and after applying for the teaching position at Haskell, the women’s volleyball coach position unexpectedly opened. “They ended up offering both positions and it was just amazing how the Lord works and it was a blessing and you know [it] definitely [has]

298 always been [my] dream to be able to lead a group of amazing Native women at the collegiate level.”

Now in her third year as head volleyball coach at Haskell, Nanabah is just as fortunate to learn from her players as she is to coach them. “They are going to help me learn about their people and their communities and how I can reach out to them within the sport of volleyball. I am really excited to be in a place where I am hoping to empower my players to go out and give back to their communities.” Nanabah gains strength from her experience as both an athlete and a coach in order to be the best role model she can be for her players. “As a Native Division I athlete and now as a Native Division I former head coach I can now assist these Native athletes who wonder about the process and what do these coaches look for academically…and I can definitely stress those academics. We as coaches can be a part of that expectation of taking pride and really being a role model in the classroom. Striving for excellence in those other parts of your life what we as

Native people feel about being balanced emotionally, mentally, physically and socially.”

Nanabah’s ultimate goals are to help her players get a college degree, create leaders who will go back to their communities, and generate opportunities for younger generations to participate fully in life.

Nanabah’s insight, foresight, and passion for sport as an inspiration in life embody who she is as a Native woman, mother, and coach. I end these narratives with a quote that speaks to her journey, and the journey she fosters in others.

I think that sport brings so much. Just the values and the basic life principles and all of those things that are in sports are what you utilize in everyday life. I hope that someone would want this program to continue to exist not just for the sport of volleyball, but to help these young ladies to

blossom and mature and grow and to be strong leaders who can later go back into their communities. And help fight the issues of education or help fight the issues of healthcare or obesity or teen violence or whatever it may be because we are going to have all those different obstacles. Stress, pressures, but I feel like sports help in those areas of communication, teamwork, learning how to fight, learning how to contain a study and learn and that is a part of everyone’s life. That is what I hope I can give back and help these players be strong women and not only the women but build a program that the peers, that they have in all the other sports they would gain the respect and help out in their communities in every aspect.






I. American Indian Collegiate Athletes Demographic Overview

The individual narratives in chapters 4 and 5 represent American Indian athletes’ distinct personal stories and experiences. The varying tribal communities, family situations, socio-economic levels, educational and cultural backgrounds, as well as their different sporting and learning experiences are significant on an individual level. This distinctive experiential information can be looked at collectively to see whether there are any commonalities that characterize American Indian athletic camaraderie and identity.

For these American Indian collegiate athletes, the intercultural and intracultural safe spaces of sport express qualities of stasis and motion. Sports are present in other facets of their lives, while it simultaneously has a culture of its own that compels and provides a foundation, balance, purpose, and identity to the lives of these young men and women.

The culture of sport provided multiple intersections in their individual stories and it is precisely on these intersections that this chapter will focus. This finding was not unexpected as other scholars have noted it as well. “Sports and games provide materials, activities and social relationships which have symbolic meaning as well as physical uses.

They provide resources towards the symbolic work of cultural expression and formation of cultural identity” (Willis, 1990, p. 109). Sport as a symbolic resource has fostered the ability of individual athletes to articulate their identity not only in relationship to themselves and to me as an interviewer, but also to the other participants in this study

301 through shared practices, goals, and experiences. Since each participant strongly felt that his or her story needed to be told, capturing the provocative patterns, conflicts, and themes among the interviewees allowed me to answer the five initial research questions posed in this dissertation;

(1) How does playing a collegiate sport either facilitate or hinder an individual’s pursuit of higher education?

(2) How does participating in collegiate sports affect an individuals’ American

Indian identity?

(3) Do collegiate athletes have a lifelong motivation to maintain personal fitness and health?

(4) What associations exist to help and encourage American Indian peoples participate in a collegiate sport?

(5) What can be done to help young American Indians pursue sports in conjunction with higher education?

Before addressing these research questions, it is useful to provide a collective demographic overview of the ten student-athletes. Tables 6.1 and 6.2 are a compilation of the athletes’ tribal communities, the sports each played, the school(s) attended and division categorization, financial support received, and current employment.


Table 6.1: Female American Indian Collegiate Athlete Breakdown by Tribe,

Sport, University/Division, Years Competed, Scholarships Received, and Current

Education Level/Employment











Tribe Sport


Navajo Volleyball New Mexico



Northern Arizona







University of New


Northern Arizona




















Tarahu mara,




Navajo Softball

Samford University,


Arizona State



Community College










Scholarship Highest Level











Pell Grant




MA/Head Women’s

Volleyball Coach

(Haskell University)





(Tuba City Boarding


BS, Teaching

Credential/ Basketball

Coach (Muskogee


Master’s Student

PhD Student,

University of Arizona


Property Manager,

Parallel Capital



Table 6.2: Male American Indian Collegiate Athlete Breakdown by Tribe, Sport,

University/Division, Years Competed, Scholarships Received, and Current

Education Level/Employment







Frank Sage






















University of




College, Wyoming


Central Oklahoma


New Mexico


University of North


Northern Arizona






















Scholarship Highest Level








Tribal, Pell





Professor, Montana

State University

PhD Student,

University of North


BA, Teaching


Teacher/Track &

Cross Country

Coach, Hopi


University of






Tribal Masters/Coordinator for Leadership

Development &

Academic Advisory,

Football, Women’s


Washington State

As it can be seen, the athletes interviewed do not consist of a random sample, but this was not needed for this exploratory research. The ten American Indian athletes represented nine tribal communities: Assiniboine, Cherokee, Chippewa, Eudeve and

Opata, Hopi, Navajo and Tarahumara. Derek and Darlane represented more than one community. The sports played included: baseball, basketball, cross-country, football,

304 softball, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling. A majority of the athletes played or are currently playing at the Division I level (Vincent, Juwan, Derek, Nanabah,

RaeAnne, and Darlane), while Frank, April, and Ashlee played at a Division I school at one point in their career but also at another division. Frank and April both played

Division II, while Ashlee also played at a junior college. Sweeney attended a junior college and then transferred to a Division II university. Thus, each athlete interviewed competed in either a Division I or a Division II school, representing a very high level of athletic ability. This extraordinary level of skill/aptitude [whichever you like best] was validated in the interviews by impressive lists of accomplishments. Juwan, April (New

Mexico Highlands, DII), and RaeAnne all attended Northern Arizona University (D1),

Sweeney attended Central Oklahoma University (DII), Frank attended both New Mexico

State (D1) and the University of North Dakota (DII), Derek attended the University of

Hawaii, Nanabah attended the University of New Mexico, Darlane attended Samford

University (DI), Ashlee attended Arizona State University (DI) and Vincent is attending the University of Arizona (D1).

Since athletic scholarships are allocated at both Division I and Division II schools and given the high level of athletic ability and proficiency of the Native athletes interviewed, it is not surprising that a majority of them were awarded at least one athletic scholarship during their collegiate careers (Vincent, Sweeney, Nanabah, April, RaeAnne,

Darlane, and Ashlee). As it happens for many athletes, some Indian players received a scholarship at one institution but not at another. Note that Ashlee did not obtain an athletic scholarship from Arizona State University, but did from Glendale Community


College. Similarly to other athletes, these outstanding young men and women were achievers in other arenas besides athletics. Frank and Darlane both earned Pell Grants, while Nanabah and April were awarded academic as well as athletic scholarships. Frank,

Juwan, and Derek were the only student-athletes who did not receive an athletic scholarship; although Juwan and Derek were offered one, they agreed to waive it because their tribal scholarships covered all expenses. Vincent, Frank, April, RaeAnne, and

Ashlee earned tribal scholarships in conjunction with athletic and/or academic subsidies.

As this data shows, these men and women were able to garner a suite of financial resources without having to go into terrible debt.

Like other college athletes, our interviewees focused on a single sport, which is not unexpected given the time and effort needed to become exceptional. Nanabah was the only athlete who participated in two collegiate sports (volleyball and basketball) and because they had complementary schedules, she did this only for one year. The nine remaining athletes participated in one collegiate sport. The NCAA membership creates rules in three separate divisions determining an individual’s eligibility to participate in intercollegiate athletics. Prospective student-athletes must meet minimum academic standards and amateurism to participate in college sports. Once they are cleared to compete, they must continue to meet the academic standards and amateurism benchmarks to remain eligible. These are often referred to as “continuing-eligibility” or “progress-todegree” rules. Each student-athlete is eligible for four years in each of his/her chosen sports. If a qualified student-athlete is “redshirted” (which means he/she practices but does not compete), four full years remain. An extra year of eligibility may be granted via

306 a “hardship waiver” if an injury occurs in the first half of the season (Division I and II) and the athlete has not participated in two contests or 20 percent of the schools completed contests. In Division III, the threshold is three contests or 30 percent of completed contests. The eligibility requirements for transfer students vary by division and whether a student is moving from a two to four year university or a four to four one. In general, student-athletes must complete a full year of residence before being eligible to compete unless they satisfy the applicable transfer requirements or exception. This is determined on an individual basis ( ).

Not unexpectedly, the years each athlete played in college varied and this depended on the coach and the needs of the team. Nanabah, April, RaeAnne, Sweeney, and Juwan maximized their four years of eligibility; April and Sweeney did so at two universities, which is fairly common for collegiate athletes in general. Frank, Derek, and

Ashlee only competed in their respective sport for two years. While Derek was injured and therefore unable to play, Frank and Ashlee both transferred to different schools, which affected their eligibility. Darlane only competed for one year, but subsequently received a tennis scholarship for two years due to negligence on the part of the coaching staff. She then decided to transfer to the University of Arizona, forgoing her three remaining years of eligibility and thus choosing a good education over her desire to compete. Vincent is currently in his fourth year of eligibility at the University of Arizona.

In addition to the athletic accolades of competing in Division I and II collegiate sports, the student-athletes should more importantly be admired for their educational aspirations and accomplishments. Juwan and April both earned their bachelor’s degrees

307 and teaching credentials and are currently teaching and coaching in their respective communities. RaeAnne also earned her bachelor’s degree and is planning on returning to school for her master’s degree. (She is currently coaching basketball on the Muskogee reservation in Florida). Derek and Nanabah both earned their master’s degrees and are currently working directly with American Indian collegiate athletes in institutes of higher education. Frank and Darlane are presently pursuing doctorate degrees in education in order to obtain the credentials to be a source of inspiration and strength to future

Indigenous people considering higher education. Dr. Sweeney Windchief serves as an assistant professor in the Adult and Higher Education Department at Montana State

University. While Vincent is currently still a senior, I have high hopes for both of his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and a successful business man.

II. Research Question 1: How does playing a collegiate sport either facilitate or hinder an individual’s pursuit of higher education?

A. Opportunities Provided by Sports

Participation in sports provides opportunities for athletes not available to other college students. Sport is a vehicle for college admittance, whether athletes had a desire to obtain just a general education or specialize in a field of study or solely attend college for the purpose of playing the sport they excelled in in high school. Sweeney blatantly admitted to the latter stance, “I wouldn’t have gone to school if it had not been for wrestling.” For Derek, Darlane, April, Nanabah, RaeAnne, and Ashlee, despite

“knowing” that they would attend college because they were supported by those around them in their communities, it was their identity as athletes that determined the institution

308 they attended. Vincent planned on going to a junior college, until the University of

Arizona recruited and offered him an athletic scholarship. The possibility and aspiration to play a sport in college directly affected each interviewee’s matriculation into college.

While sports can help get a student into college and through a rough freshman year, the dropping rate is very high during the sophomore year because of the shock of costs and the constant process of learning how to navigate the school and academic expectations, especially learning how to study. Sport provided a vehicle for college attendance and maintenance through athletic scholarships and academic standards; however, all interviewees expressed that college was more difficult than they had expected. In high school Vincent maintained a 3.5 GPA but struggled his first year of college. Luckily he had both well-trained and experienced academic advisors and tutors at the University of Arizona to help him maintain his grades. “Staying ahead of my studies was probably my number one priority because if I didn’t study or if I didn’t do any school work then I would get bad grades and I wouldn’t play,” he remembered.

Vincent adds, “We had academic advisors who every year made sure we were on track for graduation. So we had people there watching us.” While Vincent was supported from the day he set foot on the U of A campus, others were not so lucky. After RaeAnne’s first semester at Northern Arizona University, her GPA plummeted to a 1.0, which almost cost her athletic scholarship. Yet, her role as a student-athlete afforded her the possibility of receiving tutoring through the athletic program, as well as support from her athleticacademic advisor. RaeAnne remembers, “I had to get ten hours of study hall [per week] just with the basketball program.” She overcame her poor start. Without the support of

309 the athletic department she would probably have become a statistic—one of the 25.4 percent American Indian students who leave after their first year due to poor grades (as well as other contributing factors such as cultural differences, longing for home, trouble adjusting to curriculum, lack of support) (Swisher and Hoisch, 1992).

Athletic scholarships provided ample support for the student-athletes but they also placed demands on them. Practice, travel, and competition make participating in college sports a full-time job. Therefore, student-athletes heavily depend on funding to support their college careers. A majority of the student-athletes participating in this study was able to attend their respective universities because they had athletic scholarships. No one came from families who had the money to send their children to college without financial support, scholarships or the children having partial employment. As previously noted, all of the student athletes received scholarships in college.

Darlane and April in particular expressed the importance of their athletic scholarships in their statements, especially when their expected support fell through and left them up in the air, wondering how they would be able to continue. Darlane was suddenly cut from her tennis team and the discontinuation of her athletic scholarship forced her to return home and attend the University of Arizona, where she could pay instate tuition. April chose to attend New Mexico Highland University because of the athletic scholarship, yet was forced to transfer to Northern Arizona University when her coach was suddenly fired and she was left without financial support. While living in

Flagstaff and playing volleyball for NAU, she worked at Wal-Mart, until her coach offered her an athletic scholarship and told her to “quite your job.” Athletic scholarships

310 and academic standards provided sufficient support to the participants financially and academically, directly affecting their ability to continue in college and graduate in a reasonable period of time. All the interviewees graduated within six years. None was forced to drop out of school for extended periods of time or go part-time.

B. Limitations through Sport

Although each of the participants graduated from college and is successful in his or her respective career and graduate educational endeavors, their involvement in sports did not occur without sacrifice and encountering problems. Many voiced that one of the most central issues was loneliness and unpreparedness for living in unfamiliar environments without family support. Scholars have found this to be one of the most important difficulties for American Indian students and one of their biggest differences from other ethnic groups, including whites (Faircloth and Tippeconnic, 2010; Swisher and Hoisch, 1992). Culture shock and loneliness as well as the unavailability of time or money to return home regularly are considered a great sacrifice by most Native students, something that can create a great longing and, in some cases, even lead to depression or to drop out. Sports, however, contribute to keeping students in school and athletic departments are usually such a strong and cohesive social unit that most individuals can survive by making pseudo-families as well as new friends who become mates for life.

Coming from rural communities, Vincent and Juwan both acknowledge that leaving home, family, and friends was difficult. As a student-athlete, Vincent accepts that

“I only get to go home for a little before I have to come back to baseball and school.”

Juwan notes as well that how you think about playing sports helps, “You’re committed

311 and always categorize it as a job, being in athletics. So I did make a lot of sacrifices with socializing, culture the big one and family.” Sweeney’s decision to move away from home to pursue wrestling did not come without its costs. He felt that by leaving home, he had to do without everything he was comfortable with. His brief statement “I left my mountains” contains more than a simple desire to view a lovely landscape. It symbolizes a way of life that is recognized as being proper and right and the knowledge that to pursue sports in college means leaving behind all that is familiar and right as it should be as one walks through life. Leaving home is more than simply moving out of the place

[or the house] one has lived in for 18 or so years. For Native students in general, the disadvantages and the social, spiritual, and moral uncomfortableness of leaving home are a common predicator for why they drop out of college. It is not that Indian students cannot survive college; it is that to do so is too great a sacrifice on how one would journey through life. The benefits that can acrue from a college education do not seem worth the individual and family sacrifices of young people leaving at a time when they are becoming fully-educated in their cultures. With the additional demands of being an athlete, visiting home becomes a luxury, as well as a limitation while participating in collegiate athletics. Yet at the same time, it fills the gap of lonelienes and alienation many

Native students feels, especially when they are a minority at a large university or are attending a place where there are so many stereotypes about Indians that they feel alienated.

With the exception of Nanabah and Ashlee, who both participated in the Native

American student clubs, the interviewees also expressed that they did not have time for

312 extra-curricular activities on campus. Thus, the athletes missed out on some of the

“normalcy” of college life. Although this was not discussed as a limitation, they all expressed that athletics demanded a majority of their time, a fact they all seemed to accept as necessary because they wanted to be good and competitive.

Although injury through sport and sacrificing one’s body for the good of the team were not a common point of discussion among the participants, the topic did surface.

Sweeney recalled one of his professors shaking his head at the athlete’s black eye and swollen lip: “When you are in that space, you take that [physical] abuse and you push yourself and so in a sense you are sacrificing everything. And so, I remember there were times when I knew it wasn’t healthy, and I knew I was hurt but I was going back.” In a sense, Sweeney surrendered his body out of his love for wrestling. Derek was also affected by multiple injuries throughout his football career and some of these were game stoppers. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament ACL his junior year in high school, which caused “a lot of coaches to fall off the [recruiting] map.” Although he recovered and eventually attended the University of Hawaii, a shoulder injury after his sophomore year made him hang up his cleats. Unfortunately, this is not that uncommon. The NCAA injury surveillance program collects, analyzes, and disseminates data on injuries in each sport. The goal is to provide a wealth of information through which athletes can play in a safe, competitive environment. Additionally, the NCAA Committee on Competitive

Safeguard and Medical Aspects of Sports compiles an annual Sports Medicine Handbook that provides guidelines for each member institution to consider in developing sports medicine policies appropriate for its intercollegiate athletic programs.


Even if the NCAA implements safeguard policies, participating in competitive sport entails a risk of injury; by competing at a high level, athletes are well aware of the possibility of injury. From 2004 to 2009, the overall injury rate in NCAA football was 8.1 to 1,000 exposures (practices and games). While lower limb injuries consisted of the highest percentage of physical harms (50.4 percent), shoulder (like Derek’s) and upper limb amounted to 16.9 percent. Although none of the other athletes interviewed referenced such serious injury as Derek’s, it must be noted that so-called “contact” sports are not the only sports that produce career ending physical traumas. As a tennis player, I had two shoulder surgeries in college; the second one ended my career a year early.

Although the conclusion of my collegiate tennis career due to injury was disheartening, I knew I could overcome the distress. Fortunately, my instructor offered me the opportunity to coach my senior year and thus maintain my tennis scholarship. Luckily for

Derek, his tribal scholarship was not determined by his football performance. Sport provided both of us an entrance into college and introduced us to the importance of academia and the earning of a degree. Even though our athletic careers were over, our academic goals did not falter. As Sweeney recalls, “you are sacrificing everything” while competing, but there is a limit. His choice of returning to the mat indicates that the opportunity to wrestle was worth the sacrifice. Derek also expressed that his two years playing football were some of the best of his life. I, myself, would not give up my years as a collegiate player for anything; my sore shoulder was worth every second of my experience. Yet, losing all mobility for the rest of my life and becoming disabled was too high a price to pay.


While all the participants expressed that they did willingly make sacrifices in order to compete on a certain level in their sports, they recognize that as Native people, sacrifice fosters growth and resiliency. The sacrifice that comes from discipline occurs every day and is gladly endured to make an individual strong. As Vincent stated, sacrifice may not be the right word for discipline, practice, and following through on a commitment to do something well so that one can be a benefit to one’s family and community. What sacrifice actually means is using one’s time well. Vincent noted, “I believe I have learned a lot from it [sacrifice]. I learned to management my time and appreciate life, and time with family and friends.” Juwan also recognizes that “It [culture and home] is always going to be there once I get my years out of the way. It will all come back to me.” Although these examples signify the choices (temporary and long term) the interviewees made while participating in collegiate athletics, it certainly does not seem that they ever limited their access or desire to earn an education. If anything, these choices about how each one would spend his or her time—which is not always fun—ignited the determination to excel in both academics and athletics. The themes that will be discussed in the following sections further enlighten how certain aspects of the athletic careers were difficult; yet, they show once again how adversities fostered resiliency.

C. Introduction to Organized Sports

Participating in sports has been found to provide a number of opportunities ranging from physical activity to personal and social development, as well as psychological well-being (Moore and Werch, 2005). Different social factors have been

315 identified that are useful to encourage participation in sports activities. Parents and coaches have been shown to play an important role; a coach’s approach to sporting activities has a direct impact on athletes’ motivation. Research indicates that one important social factor is the coach’s interpersonal relationship with the athlete

(Vallerand and Rousseau, 2001). Moreover, with respect to team sports, an athlete’s feeling that he or she and their team are aiming to reach the same goals, and the feeling that they are united and cohesive in this endeavor appears to be an important element of motivation (Blanchard et al., 2009). The social aspects of an athlete’s determination to participate in sports exemplify that psychological needs are important.

The statement “sport transcends across generations” holds true for all the participants in this study. Most interviewees were introduced to organized sports through observing a role model who also participated. For example, many had brothers and sisters who practiced sports, while others had a parent or, as RaeAnne states, “We are just an allaround athletic family.” Male participants noted a male role model as primary, but female participants cited either or both. Often, participants reported a collegiate or professional athlete that they admired and related to: UCLA softball pitcher Lisa Fernandez for

Ashlee, professional track star Steve Prefontaine for Juwan, and Sac and Fox athlete of the century, Jim Thorpe for Derek. Role models for these young athletes gave them examples to emulate, encouraging them to follow in their siblings’ footsteps or aspire to play like their athletic hero.

Not only did families facilitate sport in the respondents’ young lives; families guided them in their pursuit to play a sport in college as well as supported them

316 throughout their college careers. For Sweeney, the death of his father before one of the biggest matches of his high school career pushed him to honor his father through his athleticism. Ashlee proclaimed that “My dad was my coach and my biggest supporter,” and RaeAnne acknowledged her mother (who played in the college world series at the

University of Oregon) for initiating and guiding her recruiting process. Growing up in a sports family laid a foundation for these athletes to celebrate sport and be celebrated as athletes within their homes. It initiated a process that expressed not only the possibility of playing a sport in college, but also the encouragement from their families. It made individuals resilient and helped them develop the skills needed to succeed in contemporary American society. In essence, with all its life lessons sport became an important part of their upbringing because it extended from their siblings and parents as well as the constant interaction with them as individuals and a unit. The knowledge about sports provided by family was inevitably a source of strength that made their pursuit of collegiate athletics possible. This support network and learning environment with its encouragement to work hard, practice, and succeed may be an important factor that may be missing for many American Indian youth who aspire to play sports after high school.

D. The Coach/Athlete Relationship

One of the deciding factors for me to attend UC Davis was the tennis coach, Bill

Maze. His kind demeanor, sense of humor, knowledge of, and respect for the game all contributed to my choice; the fact that he played tennis at Stanford with the former number one player in the world, John McEnroe, as his doubles partner was also a perk.

Since both my mom and dad coached me growing up, I understood the importance of

317 teaching others and the influence a positive instructor can have on a player’s life. When I met Billiam (as I grew to call him) we had an instant bond, and throughout my college career he became a solid friend and supporter. The respect that I held for him contributed to my success on the tennis court and in the classroom; his coaching enhanced my tennis skills, and his keen awareness that I was a student first and a tennis player second reinforced the importance of excelling academically. Similarly to my story, my research participants expressed how their coaches had a significant impact on their athletic experience.

The pervasiveness of excellent coaching was a stark commonality among the athletes interviewed. Unfortunately, they also encountered poor coaches and this too molded their experiences growing up and while in college. Coaching begins long before college, and as many of the athletes expressed, their first coach was commonly a parent or sibling. Nearly all the athletes proclaim that their youth sport coaches and high school coaches had a foundational impact on their love for sports.

i. Youth Coaches

Because coaches occupy a central and influential role in youth sport, the athletes who perceived their coaches to be supportive of their efforts experienced higher levels of sport enjoyment and were more likely to continue with their sporting experience. For the participants, while they were growing up, their coaches introduced them to the world of competition and tournaments. For April, RaeAnne, and Nanabah specifically, their local

Navajo coaches were instrumental in their exposure to tournaments off the reservation.

The athletes were able to experience competition around the country and realize the vast

318 world of sport; this promoted a desire to improve their games and set goals for their futures. Nanabah remembers that while competing around the country in 4 th

and 5 th

grade, she first decided that she wanted to compete in college. Without this exposure, Nanabah and the other participants may not have found the desire needed to acknowledge their athletic ability as a point of access to college.

The introduction to the world of sports outside their home communities seemed particularly important for all participants. It not only provided them with awareness of what competition looks like, it also offered a first step in accessing the pipeline to college. Although the athletes were “bonded” to their local coaches, teams, and communities, the foresight of the coaches supported the process of “bridging” for the athletes. Again, this is an advantage for American Indian student-athletes who have had the possibility to travel for competition; unfortunately, many American Indian college students have never spent an extended time away from home. The athletes learned to cope with the side effects of travel which gave them skills needed for success in college.

The influence of parental and sibling involvement with youth coaches is important to note once more. For the athletes, this means having a positive athletic role models within their own families, who sometimes acted as coaches. Within the youth sport environment, coaches strongly influence the nature and quality of the sport experience. The goal priorities they promote, the attitudes and values they transmit, and the nature of their interactions with athletes can markedly influence the effects of sport participation on children and youth. All participants noted the positive memory and relationships with their coaches growing up—whether this relationship was inspired by

319 coaches taking them off the boarding school campus to compete, traveling around the world to wrestle, or simply shooting around in the backyard, the participants’ coaches inspired them to compete at the next level.

The athletic success, the understanding that it takes hard work to achieve it, and the educational drive of the athletes while in high school and college all reflect the conception that “sport develops character”. Given the critical role that coaching behaviors can have on the emotional reactions of young athletes and on their continuation in sports, the potential and educational value of providing a positive and supportive athletic environment is equally important. Coakley (2007, 2010) concludes that sport can provide a necessary but never a sufficient singular force for producing desired developmental outcomes. Gambone, Yu, Lewis-Charp, Sipe, and Lacoe (2006) believe that one of the most important indicators of youth development is “their ability to increasingly recognize their potential for making contributions to the public sphere” (p. 236). Youth coaches yield the possibility of youth development through sport. For the research participants, the experience of playing sports growing up had a lasting impact on their lives today.

Their coaches provided a foundation for what a good (or poor) role-model represents and how as adults, they too can provide support, education, and access for youth in their own communities. As youth athletes, the participants ascertained the importance of hard work, goal setting, and teamwork and were introduced to life outside their own communities. These tools were not only useful on their journeys to and through college, but were also absorbed in their daily lives thus encouraging the desire and means to give back to their own communities today. In short, these athletes assumed their roles of adult

320 educators, enculturating the young of their communities in the age honored fashion of participation, encouragement, and practice in order to improve skills and understand values. The principles these athletes learned at a young age reflect the coaching they received.

ii. High School Coaches

The results outlined in Carlson and Scott’s (2005) comprehensive study of the impact of interscholastic athletic participation on an athlete’s life after high school show that student-athletes are more likely to continue to participate in physical fitness or recreational sport, graduate from college, be employed full time and earn a higher salary, and be less likely to smoke, all factors that are reflected in the participants’ experience during high school. All of the athletes agree that their high school coaches were fundamental in their matriculation into college. High school coaches should take on the responsibility to encourage their qualified athletes to competing in college, if the athlete so desires, and, as several respondents noted, even create the yearning. They should help the potential college athlete to think outside the box, as it were, to think beyond the comfortable world of family, relatives, and friends. The participants depended greatly on their high school coaches to foster the actual pipeline to college. Although Juwan had thought about attending college, it was not until Rick Baker, his high school coach, began talking with him about opportunities after he graduated, that continuing his education became even a possibility, let alone a realizable goal. Similarly, Frank’s high school coach showed Running Brave to his athletes to encourage them in thinking that, as Native runners, they had potential to compete at a high achievement level. Darlane attributes the

321 ability to “compete” in both academic and athletic worlds to her Desert View high school coach, Stacey Haines, as well as her former University of Arizona women’s tennis coach,

Vickey Mays.

High school coaches are very critical in creating (or blocking) the path to college for athletes. They are key nodes in the sports network and can act as barriers or facilitators. The recruitment to play a sport in college depends on an athlete’s visibility to collegiate coaches. Since scholarship and college demographics suggest that collegiate coaches take little interest in recruiting athletes from reservations because they are “high risk” prospects, most of the visibility depends on the actions of the high school coach and athlete to find the recruiters and perform well in off-reservation settings. A majority of the athletes in this project were recruited to compete in college in this manner, thanks to a coach who understood how the recruiting system worked and knew where he needed to go. Coaches also need to make the effort of showcasing their protégés. Vincent travelled around Arizona to compete in tournaments to be seen by college coaches and April remembered that, “Between my junior and senior year I went to the NAU volleyball camp and the coaches were pretty surprised [at] this Native who could play, so I didn’t think that I would get into Division I, but my [high school] coach, I guess putting video and everything out and he knew some people from the university so that is how I got my foot in the door.” Through the recruiting video put together by her high school coach,

April was able to gain visibility in the collegiate arena.

Nanabah’s high school coach pushed her to compete at a college level while in high school and continued to encourage her; “He has been a continuous supporter of me

322 to this day, a great friend. I guess I admire him because of his ability to coach, his knowledge of the game and also his love for the community. He brought the feel of volleyball that is still to this day in Farmington.” For a majority of the participants, their high school coaches supported their desire to compete in college. Sweeney’s coach not only aided in the recruiting process, but also provided Sweeney with psychological and emotional support when his father died. Although Sweeney travelled on five NCAA recruiting trips, none of the collegiate coaches lived up to his expectations—the coach as a role model and father figure, just like his high school instructor—so he decided to attend a junior college where the coach was more suitable to his own needs.

Despite RaeAnne’s athletic ability and desire to play basketball in college, her high school coach unfortunately did not support her like the other participants’ coaches did. Luckily, she had other sources of support; Coach Kincell and her mother both aided in her recruiting process. RaeAnne’s experience shows that it is necessary for athletes to have a supporter to facilitate their journey to college. When a coach does not perform this job, it becomes the responsibility of the parents and athlete to step into the breach of the recruitment process.

Like youth sport coaches, high school coaches have the opportunity to foster athletic ability and access to competition at the next level. High school coaches on reservations have an added responsibility to offset the near invisibility of American

Indian high school athletes to collegiate coaches. Luckily for the participants, they all found the necessary support system in their journey to collegiate athletics. It is evident that the athletes relied heavily on their families not only for support, but also for the

323 knowledge and need to activate the social and competition networks of their coaches in order to create the pipeline to college.

iii. Collegiate Coaches

Vincent, Juwan, Sweeney, Derek, Darlane, April, RaeAnne, and Ashlee were recruited by collegiate coaches to play a sport in college. Whether they accepted the scholarship or made their team by “walking on”, as Frank and Ashlee did at New Mexico

State, University of North Dakota and Arizona State University respectively, the relationship with their coaches was instrumental in their collegiate journeys. One of the most important things a university coach can do is actually go to a reservation community—cross the invisible territorial boundary line to what Euro-Americans view as another world—to visit the athlete AND his/her family. Juwan especially attributes his career at NAU to Ron Mann visiting him on the reservation. In his article Sporting

Dreams Die on the “Rez”, Simpson concludes that “it doesn’t take many heartbreaks before the college coaches catch on to the risky business of recruiting off the reservation”

(2009, p. 287). Although Juwan remembers that a number of other coaches were

“looking at me,” he was particularly grateful to Coach Mann for taking an interest in his culture and traveling to Hopi. This meant that the coach would know him as an individual with a family and also told Juwan that the coach was not afraid of Indians—a feature that came out in other interviews where coaches displayed or expressed stereotypical prejudice, indicating their nervousness around people who were not “like” themselves.

Juwan and the other athletes were fully aware of the portrayal that “they [Native athletes] suffer from, a widespread reputation as high-risk recruits who ‘probably won’t stick

324 around for more than a few weeks’” (Simpson, 2009, p. 287). The symbolism and actuality of this trip, creating a positive relationship with their coaches, was important to the young athletes’ success in college.

Sweeney turned down offers from NCAA schools and chose to attend a junior college for two years because he related to the coach. He then transferred to Central

Oklahoma because the institution’s coach was both aware of and appreciative of

Sweeney’s Native identity; coach recruited him during the university pow wow and also advocated for Sweeney to keep his hair long. Although the coach that initially recruited

RaeAnne left after only one year, the succeeding one supported her through the remaining three years. RaeAnne and her family were able to show their appreciation for the support that her teammates and coaches gave her at NAU. During RaeAnne’s senior year, her parents hosted a Navajo Taco dinner for the Lady Lumberjacks on their way to play the University of New Mexico. RaeAnne was able to teach her team about where she grew up and demonstrate why she took so much pride in her Native identity.

Others echo these points and discuss the big and small things coaches do that influenced their lives. Nanabah gives tremendous credit to her volleyball coach at UNM for her support both on and off the court: “My coach is an amazing woman, she is an

Olympian herself and she truly embraced New Mexico, she truly embraced the culture of

New Mexico and all of the different ethnicities and traditions and you know, she supported me in who I was, a Navajo woman.” After April’s negative experience with her coach in New Mexico, her relationship with the NAU coach landed her a spot on the team. April’s NAU coach not only supported her financially by telling her to “quit your

325 job, you are going to get a free ride your senior year,” but also by holding a practice in

Ganado, something that was very important to April because “high school students and others in the community were actually able to see a practice session.” Derek attended the

University of Hawaii, where the majority of his teammates were “brown guys” and he knew the coach would not treat him differently for being Native. It becomes apparent that the athletes share an analogous pattern when talking about their college coaches. The athletes who had a respectful relationship with their coach and were able to openly express their own Native identities were the ones who competed during all of their collegiate eligibility. The exception is Derek, who was unable to play the entire time due to a shoulder injury. He did, however, feel comfortable with his role as “Chief” so he decided to stay at UH and complete his degree, while continuing to support his team from the sideline.

One can also see how a coach’s stupidity, negativity, and cultural insensitivity affected the interviewees’ college lives. Unfortunately for Frank, Darlane, April, and

Ashlee, their collegiate coaches constrained their athletic careers. Frank and Darlane were the products of racist and stereotypical actions; Darlane, April, and Ashlee were misled and betrayed by their coaches. At UNM, Frank was not offered athletic financial support due to the “all Indians are casino rich” stereotype, while in North Dakota he was asked if he was “legal” by his coach and had to tolerate racial jokes from his teammates.

Darlane felt used and ridiculed by her coach’s racist implications and the coach felt uncomfortable with her around as well. The coach’s own bigotry led her to not wanting to see daily an individual who was not “like her.” Darlane’s coach suddenly “let her go”

326 from the team, leaving her without financial support. This is a classic case of victimization: Darlane was the scapegoat who bore the punishment for the perpetrator’s cultural blindness and subsequent actions. It was a classic case of misuse of power, for coaches are in powerful positions over student athletes.

Despite the culmination of their athletic careers at one university, Frank, April, and Ashlee were resilient and determined to continue their sports successes at another institution. Darlane expressed this same resilience by demanding that she received athletic financial support for another year and that the university fulfilled its obligations without victimizing her. She then transferred home to Tucson to finish her degree at the

University of Arizona. Although these setbacks may have hindered these students’ athletic careers, they did not let these hindrances impede their educational goals. In fact, it was Frank’s, April’s, and Ashlee’s desire to play that inspired them to continue their education in order to carry on their athletic endeavors. For Darlane, although she realized her tennis career was coming to an end, her education had just begun and offered her a new way to pursue her goals with dignity and receive the respect she deserved. Her very success as well as her activism to not be victimized by a bigoted individual who was without honor, make her an athletic role model, a person who stood up for her rights in a very uncomfortable and potentially degrading situation. The participants who experienced discouraging and unsupportive coaches unfortunately did not compete as many years in college as those who experienced a positive relationship with their coach.

The participants, who were supported on and off the court, attribute a major source of their matriculation and graduation from college to their coaches.


E. Student Comes before Athlete in Student-Athlete

While athletes are away from home and family, their coaches became like surrogate parents and role models. In addition to athletic guidance, coaches (and sometimes their staffs) have the responsibility to help their athletes remain eligible for sports and foster an environment that promotes balance. For Sweeney, his coaches’ “three rules” had such a lasting impression and impact that he transferred them to his graduate school life and became a basis of his own student mentoring tools. Juwan’s coach “told us that we were students first,” and engrained the notion that academics were always the first priority. Vincent appreciates his coach because “he wants us to put school before baseball, because in reality, we are here to get a degree.” For student-athletes, academics are important, not only to remain eligible to play, but also because a majority of them “go professional in something other than sports,” as the NCAA clip proclaims. The participants negate the “dumb jock” stigma, as expressed through their academic scholarships, their GPAs, and their continuation into graduate school.

Collegiate coaches hold a grave responsibility to keep their athletes eligible, as well as make sure they are on track for graduation. After RaeAnne’s freshman year, her grades were suffering badly, so her coach assisted her with extra support until her grades improved and she had learned how to study effectively and smartly. This not only increased her GPA, it also enhanced the athlete-coach relationship. For a majority of the athletes, their coaches facilitated this process and inspired role model behavior in the classroom and in the community. Derek explained that his coach “would say, ‘remember

328 outside of these walls you are a reflection of me and I am a reflection of you so what you guys have to do is make smart decisions.’” Similarly, Nanabah’s coach supported both her academic and extra-curricular activities, such as the Kiva Club and Native American club on campus. She also nominated Nanabah for the Olympic Academy in Greece so she could represent the United States Olympic committee and believed she would be a great

United States representative, thus providing her with opportunities outside of collegiate athletics—a once-in-a-life-time special experience she will never forget.

Although the leading reason the participants pursued college was to compete in athletics, their educational aspirations quickly became a more important factor throughout and after college. This was especially evident for those who were injured or could not compete continuously. After their collegiate athletic careers ended, the importance of their role as students became predominant in their post-graduation endeavors. For student-athletes, the significance of academics was largely instilled by their coaches. Moreover, as student-athletes they also had academic athletic advisors (like

Derek’s current position at the University of Washington) to help with class schedules and tutoring. Student-athletes have an advantage in this regard, since they have a team fighting for their academic success, something that students in general do not have access to. This academic advantage was experienced by all participants. It must be noted, however, that it was not the outside assistance alone that encouraged success; the athletes had an inner desire to succeed both athletically and academically. This is expressed not only by the graduation of every participant, but also by their desire to continue their education either through the matriculation into graduate school or through their

329 professions as educators. Even Vincent, who is still participating in baseball acknowledged, “I like to think of myself as a scholar because baseball and other sports are not a lifelong activities but receiving an education is.”

F. When the Athlete Turns Coach

For collegiate athletes, coaching provides a means to continue their lives as sportspersons and in the world of athletics. Generally, a majority of collegiate athletes turn to coaching after college, either as a full-time profession, as a part-time job, or on a volunteer basis. This is another way in which they can pass on to younger people all they have learned, from playing the sport to playing it well. Participants feel most comfortable participating in their sports; athletics acts are one of the repetitive focal points in life. It is not surprising then, that Juwan, Derek, April, RaeAnne, Ashlee, and Nanabah have turned to coaching (or are working with athletes in some manner) as their profession, thus combining their love, moral commitments, and supporting themselves and their families.

Coaching also provides an opportunity to work on reservation, to continue on the traditions learned as children and pass them to their children and peers. Juwan is now cocoaching with his former high school coach, Rick Baker, the man who inspired him to pursue running in college.

Thanks to the opportunities introduced by her coach, Nanabah changed her education goals. She had thought “I wanted to be an engineer but I changed it to a more general life-hood and instilled this passion of mine in sports and within education of some sort…I really knew I wanted to be a coach.” She cultivated her experience as a

Division I athlete, and now uses the tools and skills all her coaches had taught her and

330 had her practice to urge her own young athletes to strive “for excellence in those other parts of your life—what we as Native people feel about being balanced emotionally, mentally, physically and socially.” As student-athlete turned coaches, the men and women respondents have been able to nurture relationships through sport and provide to others the support they received from their own coaches (or in the case of deficient coaches, now supply for what they were not given). Given the low numbers of American

Indian collegiate coaches, the importance of increasing the quantity of Native studentathletes who become coaches is essential. Only in this way there will be enough role model coaches who are able to create through the networks begun while they were student-athletes the social pipelines necessary for younger generations.

G. My Team Fostered a Community

As previously explained, American Indian identity is nurtured through the relationships within families and communities. Therefore, community cohesion is an important aspect of American Indian security. For American Indian students in general, an important factor in the high incidences of college drop-outs is the heartache of being away from family and community. When students in general enter institutions of higher education, they often experience a sense of isolation. For student-athletes, however, there is an instant bond that occurs with their teammates, giving them a sense of community to replace the natal society. Whether athletes play team or individual sports, they are a part of a collegiate team, where their performance affects the group as a whole. As a result, a spirit of working as a unit builds and this is one of the essences of community.


Vincent rooms with a few of his teammates and is very close with his team, which has proven to be a support system away from home. RaeAnne also drew strength from her teammates: “My friends were my teammates and they were your family and they were your this and they were your that. It was all with your team.” Although Derek only competed for two years in Hawaii, he still thinks of and acknowledges his teammates as

awhwanna, or family. Coaches work hard to establish this sense of belonging and support and working as a unit. It is very similar to how Native American communities of various kinds function. As a result, individuals work hard in team sports and where individual competition is the norm. Even there, the sense of being a unit is critical to individual’s success. Although Sweeney wrestled as an individual, he mentioned that

“There were so many matches that if I won, the team won, if I lost, the team lost. I pulled us out a lot. I won a lot of matches for the team and the coach.” Sweeney credited his success at both the junior college and the four year university to a desire to contribute to the success of his team.

High levels of sports team cohesiveness have been associated with more favorable attitudes toward exercise and positive affect (Courneya, 1995), better performance

(Carron and Spink, 1993), and greater persistence and attendance (Spink, 1995).

Williams and Widmeyer (1991) further showed that high levels of task cohesion amongst teams predicted enhanced motivation. The participants of my study expressed the importance of their teammates both during competition and through the commonality of being student-athletes. Their mutual goals and experiences (i.e., having survived a rough practice) promoted friendship and spaces to both celebrate achievements and console

332 defeats. Team cohesion is one factor that has often been connected to group performance and has been defined as “an individual’s sense of belonging to a particular group and his or her feelings of morale associated with membership in groups” (Bollen and Hoyle,

1990, p. 482). For the participants, their sense of belonging may have affected their success in competition. There are too many variables to know this for sure, but for the participants in this study at their respective colleges it definitely created a safe space and a contact zone to another world. This transcultural space was fostered through understanding and accepting a shared intent and goal and the cohesion of men and women who all work together for the common goal. In this situation, “everybody is ready to take responsibility for group chores” (Cartwright, 1968, p. 70). This mentality and group dynamic resembles that of a well-functioning American Indian community. In this sense, sports temporarily took the place of the home community. American Indian collegiate athletes were immediately involved with and became a member of an established of people (teammates) that filled the void of their home communities. They were too busy and too immersed in their new social group to experience the devastating loneliness of being away from home and on one’s own that one feels when raised to work as part of a self-supporting and socially reinforcing group that gives its members an identity, a sense of place, and security. These student-athletes experienced a sisterhood or brotherhood that enabled them to feel a part of a community. They were not alone on their journey in the strange world of universities and colleges; rather, they were part of a community and contributing to it—doing something meaningful and, in a sense, giving back to the whole.


III. Research Question 2: How does participating in collegiate sports affect an individuals’ American Indian identity?

So if there was a shift, it was away from this identity of me as an athlete to an identity of a contributing community member. I can’t define it for myself. My identity has to be defined by a community…The only reason I can say I’m Indian is because all [those] other Indians say ‘yeah, he’s Indian’. When I go back home for summer stuff people know my family, some people are taken with each other as relatives. So absolutely we understand, I can say I am an Assiniboine Indian because they say I am.


The American Indian student-athlete negotiates and embodies a complex yet distinctive identity. Each athlete who participated in this study articulated his or her unique identity with respect to key patterns, conflicts, themes, and interpersonal relationships that were common to all of the individual narratives. This can be thought of as an intersection of sport, school, culture, and society. Bourdieu (1990) suggested “that it is impossible to analyze a particular sport independently of the set of sporting practices,” and that “one has to imagine the space of sporting practices as a system from which every element derives its distinctive value” (p. 156). Therefore, “the space of sports has first of all to be related to the social space that is expressed in it” (p. 157). The pertinent meaningful properties of sporting practices to the social spaces they occupy are prevalent among sports across reservations. Sports have become a vibrant and inclusive part of Native culture and foster pride while acting as a means to combat obesity across

Indian country. These practices are therefore fostered through an athlete’s interaction with sports as a youth and continue through college and life after this. The athletic and

Native identities share prevalent and overlapping spaces in these athletes’ lives, yet it

334 cannot be clearly defined nor ignored. Below is an analysis of how this joint identity was formed, shifted, and acknowledged in the lives of the ten American Indian collegiate athletes interviewed.

A. Self-Identity through Sports

The athletic identity for these athletes emerged long before playing a sport in college. Sweeney remembers that he began to think of himself as an athlete “because I was good at it. I think it is a place where we get recognition, that’s what keeps us interested in sport.” This statement exemplifies the participants’ attraction to sports.

They frequently noted gaining admiration or recognition from peers and/or family for their athletic achievements and, often, to a greater extent than for their academic or other pursuits. Sweeney continued, “When I was pretty young I got to go to China and Russia and Mongolia to wrestle and that kind of solidified that it was part of my identity, this is what I was…Good enough to compete, that becomes a part of who you are.” The competitiveness of sports also drove Ashlee, Derek, and Juwan to participate. Juwan said,

“The more I found out about being competitive… you want to be better and good at something…The other things that come with it, the ribbons, medals, awards, things that the more you get the more satisfied you become.”

While Nanabah also connected to sport through her competitive nature, this activity also gave her a space to exert confidence, a characteristic that was absent in other areas of her life. For Nanabah and Derek, sport acted as an equalizer in that their role as an athlete was a safe place in a world filled with both racism and the absence of an

American Indian presence outside their home. April, RaeAnne, and Nanabah were

335 recognized in the Navajo Times on numerous occasions, and all either reached or were nominated for All-American honors in high school, something that enhanced their desire to play and their identify as an athlete. RaeAnne’s final decision to attend Northern

Arizona University was shared with her community through a picture of her signing the letter of intent on the front page of the local newspaper. Afterwards, she was celebrated with a parade. She candidly acknowledges, “It’s [sport is] just in my blood” and she has a

“calling from the court.” For these athletes, the enjoyment of sport ran deeper than the notion of “winning”; it fostered a sense of belonging and self-efficacy. It is who they are and how they think of themselves.

B. Identifying as a Native and an Athlete

For these American Indians, athletics was and continues to be a prominent part of their lives and a cornerstone of who they are as Native people. To be an athlete means to be is strong, healthy, and follow the cultural journey of a balanced life that continues into old age. One keeps oneself fit so to not be a burden to one’s community but also because the strength permits to successfully conduct all the labor and good thoughts needed by the community. While Juwan acknowledges that “I identify myself as being Native American from the Hopi tribe, which is huge and is something I have never failed to mention everywhere I go,” it became apparent that his “Native” and “athletic” identities did not contradict one other. While “the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role” (Brewer, Van Raalte, and Linder 1993, p. 237) may have been salient at times, the athletic identity never became the “engulfed” role. By this, I mean that the athletic role was very prevalent and pervasive through the interviewees’ lives, but their Native

336 identity was never forgotten or lost in their experience as student-athletes. Roles and identities are activated by an individual when they are salient, needed, effective for social communication, and for lubricating social interaction. Sweeney remembers that sometimes it was his Native identity that guided him, while at other times he was just a wrestler, trying to win the next match. Although he recollects that in college, “I was a wrestler….I think that was based on what was important to me at the time. It is hard to say that those things at home weren’t more important to me,” his identity as an

Assiniboine man was present through the cultural significance and symbolism of not sacrificing his long hair in order to wrestle. While his role as a wrestler was salient in these cases, it did not require identity foreclosure. That is, his Native identity was never

“closed off” in order to wrestle in college. Similarly, Ashlee remembers that softball was the driving force of everything she did in college: “Nothing made me happier than having the ball in the middle of the circle controlling the game.” While her role as an athlete was pervasive, it did not cause her individuality as a student and a Navajo woman to be overshadowed or discarded. Human beings are capable of successfully handling and articulating multiple roles in their lives. The role of student is as important as the one of athlete. As with many of the athletes, Ashlee’s grade point average was not only vital to her athletic eligibility; it was equally important to her as a person with a future career after college, in this case, gaining acceptance into graduate school. Although there were no other Natives on her teams, she sought companionship through Native American student groups on campus. This allowed her spaces for several of her multiple roles which, in her case, were articulated sequentially rather than consecutively.


Because athletics became such important facets of their young lives, the research participants’ roles as athletes grew alongside their roles as community members. For most of them, their community and family acknowledged and supported them as athletes; increasing up their athletic ability was celebrated in their Native community. For example, Ashlee states, “in the community, I am known as an athlete.” Because sport became a natural part of their daily lives, these men and women did not have to choose to be either an athlete or Native, but could strengthen themselves through identifying as both. I believe this fostered a strong sense of Native identity that continued while each participated in sports at college. Most of the athletes felt both a strong sense of community support and that they were giving back to their people by acting as role models for the younger generation and also by winning. Each competition played and each game or match won was seen as a success that strengthened the entire community.

C. Sport in Conjunction with Native Community

Sports are vibrant and inclusive social activities with cultural meanings that strengthen Indigenous communities. Although these athletes were attending college away from their communities, they drew strength from their culture and upbringing. Juwan used the importance of planting corn in his Hopi community as a metaphor for running:

“[The] teachings and like for us [Hopi are important]: planting corn you have to finish what you are doing, you don’t give up on your crops so I think part of that discipline comes into play where you always have to finish what you are doing.” For Juwan, being

Hopi helped him accomplish and also interpret and acknowledge his successes, that is, not get a “welled head.” Likewise, Darlane acknowledges that she decided to play sports,

338 just like her ancestors did: “Indigenous people, they had to run right, that was part of their survival.” RaeAnne said, “I am a proud Native and I am going to represent anything and everything that I do. It is motivation for me just being Native because we are so small but yet we can make a big difference somewhere. I try to keep myself grounded with where I come from. I try not to forget where I come from.” It is apparent that although these student-athletes were away from their home communities, they remained connected to them through the act of playing sport. Whether running as their ancestors did or playing basketball, volleyball, softball, football or wrestling to show the youth back home that it is possible to play a sport in college and have aspirations, these athletes asserted their athletic identity in conjunction with their communities, a quality that is unique to

American Indian collegiate athletes.

D. Identifying as a Native Student-Athlete on Campus

These athletes held (and Vincent holds) a highly visible and somewhat singular position on college campuses: as Native students, they embody the most underrepresented minorities; as Native student-athletes they represent an even more marginalized population; and as successful Native-student athletes, they were (and

Vincent is) in a position to act as role models, or, on the other hand, remain isolated.

While Sweeney remembers the presence of other Native athletes on campus and that “it was really cool” to not be the only Native athlete, a majority of the athletes associated most closely with their teammates than with other Native Americans who were not in sports or not on their teams. This makes sense just because of the demands of their student professions—the large chunks of time needed for practice, the fact that most

339 roomed with, ate and studied with teammates, and were off campus during the semester for away games and tournaments. There were fewer opportunities to meet nonteammates unless the student-athlete made a special effort. Given the sense of community inherent in the team, most people did not make the special effort to step outside their comfortable environment which gave them a sense of belonging and fitting into elite and was envied by others on campus. The athletes had different experiences from other students, but all except Ashlee and Nanabah noted that they did not participate in Native events or student clubs on campus due to their athletic commitments.

They recognized their role on campus and had to explain their athletic association and commitment to other Natives around the university. One of the most difficult aspects was success and its fame, standing out, and seeing other people assume you were now different from the rest of the community. As Juwan remembers, “You kind of got portrayed [by other Natives] as being different because you made it.” Unlike Juwan’s experience of feeling casted out from other Native students, Vincent feels he is a role model for other Natives around campus: “right now I feel like I represent my nation, I feel like I represent my people.” Frank, Ashlee, and Nanabah feel that other Native student-athletes strengthened their identity. Being the only one was different from being one of a group. One did not look arrogant if a person had others. With others one was expressing group solidarity and performing tasks together. Frank stated, “My identity never left me because when people ask you, what are you, what is your ethnicity I always say ‘I’m Navajo’ and Chris would say ‘I’m Jemez’.” Nanabah adds, “She [Paula who is

Cherokee and Pueblo] and I really grew and bonded …I learned so much about her

340 culture and her ways.” Although there were not any other Native women on April’s volleyball team or RaeAnne’s basketball team, they befriended each other at Northern

Arizona University. April also remembers the thrill of playing other Native women, particularly Nanabah at the University of New Mexico, whereas after college they were teammates and won Gold Medals at two Indigenous Games. Reflecting on his wrestling experiences in Wyoming, Sweeney stated, “I have to admit there was really something sort of competitive about beating non-Natives as a Native person.” Competing and excelling in sport reinforced Sweeney’s Native identity; he was able to “decolonize space” just as American Indian boarding school athletes did when competing against white athletes, particularly when Carlisle beat Army 27-6 in the 1912 “Real War of the

West.” As Native athletes, they not only sought comfort in seeing other Native athletes competing, but also in beating white athletes. It was as if one had dealt a blow to colonialism and forced assimilation.

E. The Place for Sacrifice and Hard Choices in Sport

Although the participants enjoyed their experience as collegiate student-athletes through the very act of playing and individual growth, committed participation did not come without hardship and making difficult choices. To become good at a sport required intense dedication and that meant that other activities could not be pursued. These included participating in student functions on campus and returning home to visit family.

For example, as Dr. Jennie Joe has told me and others, going to college at UC- Berkeley meant that she was not living at her home on the Navajo reservation. This, in turn, signified that she was not there where periodic, ritually specific, or seasonally-restricted

341 knowledge was conveyed or important stories could be told. As a result, she had to sacrifice (i.e., give up) her opportunity to learn about certain parts of her culture at the times she would have normally learned about them. This was an unfortunate cost of earning a college education and advanced degrees and it was one she thought about when she decided to go to college. This did not mean, however, that she stopped being Navajo or that it changed her feelings about her core identity.

Going away from home, from the safe nest of the family where support is theoretically always given to the cultural shock of a new environment that one has not yet learned to navigate, often results in isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression and apathy. The result of these experiences is a theme in the higher education literature and indeed in American Indian literature and memoirs in general. College campuses are strange environments for almost all students—with the exception of individuals who went to private boarding schools.

Then there is the problem of being a token, not appearing to be the norm—either because of phenotypical characteristics, language or customs, of standing out and the individual feeling like he or she does not fit in. As a result, students of all types begin to question themselves: Why am I different? Is being different wrong? Should I change?

Why am I going through all this? Will it be worth it? Memoirs of individuals from all cultures who have lived in new environments where they were seen or labeled as different or unique are full of statements showing that they are questioning who they are.

As a result of these internal debates that are either reinforced or countered by their environments, individuals make a number of decisions. One of these, and one that Native


American students chose disproportionately, is to drop out and return to the safety and familiarity of the home and the community environment, hopefully to a homeland or on an area that is the culture’s designated lands. Others stay but only interact with individuals who are like themselves—making the athletic team their pseudo-family or interacting with Native American social groups or clubs—while others push themselves to fully integrate either by celebrating their heritage or compartmentalizing it for the years they are in college. One reason that the successful athletes who participated in this study did not drop out is that they had the opportunity to form a pseudo-family or kinship group, to make fictive kin who acted like kin and offered support and friendship while pushing individuals to work hard to assist the entire group, to act like a community. This small group formation and participation is especially important in large Division 1 intuitions where first year students feel lost because they do not yet have the skills to obtain guidance or find mentors and advisors in older students, staff or faculty.

Although I would not necessarily claim that the athletes “sacrificed” their Native identities, they underwent moments that challenged who they were as Native people just as they all periodically questioned their abilities as athletes and students—can I do this?

Do I really have the talent? Juwan and RaeAnne selected a university that was close to home because residing nearby family and community allowed them to travel home regularly. This is becoming a common strategy for many Native American students and is one of the reasons for the formation and success of tribal colleges. For Sweeney and

April in particular, the change in landscape was especially problematic and created a yearning for home and for interaction with people who accepted and understood them

343 without drawing culture into question. Actually the yearning showed how strong their identities were. Sweeney recalls, “I left my mountains,” and this can be interpreted that he had to be extra vigilant and careful because he did not have the protection of his family, community, and land in his daily life. One wants to be safe and part of that safety came from residing on tribal land. Yet, the yearning and the remembering ensured that he did not forget or take his Assiniboine identity for granted. The yearning had a positive function and did not stop him in his pursuits. For many other Native Americans, the yearning is so strong that they must return. Unlike Sweeney, others might have not developed the skills to transform the longing from an ache for family and place into a strength that reminds them of who they are.

An additional yearning occurs for athletes from sports families—to go away to school means that you are without a social group who constantly thinks about and participates in sports. In these cases the athletic team and the university’s athletic program with its established and often very efficient and effective support system (not available to other students, Native or non-Native) makes the transition to a new space bareable and manageable. The same is true for financial support, which means that the students do not have to work to support themselves. The importance of this complex is especially evident in the stories of the peoples who related that they were taken away and left them stranged. April remembers that it was particularly difficult to be without her family, especially in the midst of her Title IX lawsuit.

April’s experience also illustrates the sexism that unfortunately still persists in collegiate athletics; yet she was the only participant that explicitly talked about feeling

344 stereotyped as a female athlete. This may have been because it was so blatant and could not be conceptualized as something without consequences that could not be ignored.

Racism and ignorance surrounding American Indian culture were pervasive, however, throughout the athletes’ narratives. An important factor in these stories was whether the athlete was by him or herself, that is the only Native on the team, whether there were other Natives or the team was ethnically diverse. Frank had a Jemez teammate at UNM and does not relate that he was the butt of racist statements. However, as the only Native athlete at North Dakota, he experienced cultural blindness, ignorance, and stupidity— since the coach did not understand basic US geography. When his coach asked Frank,

“Are you legal?” he felt insulted and isolated as the only Native as well as the only person from outside North Dakota. He internalized the situation into discomfort in expressing his Navajo identity and compartmentalized it. However, he found reassurance in remembering Billy Mill’s experience in Running Brave; as a Lakota man, Mills too lived through racism while running in college. Frank found strength through Billy Mills’ resilience and reaction to stereotypical statements due to ignorance, cultural blindness, or in some cases, prejudice and bigotry.

Other student-athletes used role models, American Indians who were superstars and had made a lasting impression on American sport. These historical icons were simply too good and too resilient to be ignored or marginalized. Derek admired Jim Thorpe for his successes and resiliency on and off the playing field. Identifying with a Native athletic hero as well as with other Native people in general was, for these athletes, another important aspect of surviving away from home. Seeing others who look like

345 yourself, whom people instantly recognize as being “the same” based on some phenotypical characteristic is very important to people as the literature well notes. Derek ultimately decided to leave the lower 48 and attend Hawaii because “honestly I just wanted to be another brown guy you know. I didn’t want to be the guy who stood out because that’s what I was growing up.” Derek’s experience playing football in Hawaii had a lasting impact on how he identifies himself; his persona as “Chief” enabled him to feel at home and mature while in Hawaii, the place “from” which he now states he is.

Darlane acknowledged that “running” was an act of survival for her people and although the meaning of survival has changed over the centuries, she soon realized that her identity as an Indigenous person was an enduring mechanism while she lived in

Alabama. Through the racism expressed by her coach and the stereotyping voiced by other students, Darlane became very conscious of her surroundings. Unlike Derek but similarly to Frank, she was the only “brown girl” on the team, creating a keen awareness of her own Indigenous identity. She proudly remembers, “I like plastered my walls with

[cultural] paintings, art or music and stuff like, [declaring] ‘this is who I am’.” Even though she felt isolated from individuals who were like herself and therefore did not question her ‘difference’, Darlane sought strength simply from visibly symbolizing that she was Indigenous, thus becoming aware of the importance of embracing her Indigenous heritage.

Although these few athletes experienced different levels of distress while participating in collegiate sports, their resiliency created a space for their own agency, growth, and self-awareness. Just as sport became a safe haven for Nanabah, who grew up

346 surrounded by racial slurs and violence and who, consequently, at times questioned her own Navajo identity, volleyball was a savior for April during the difficult times growing up and allowed her to feel that she belonged to an important social group, a type of fictive kinship that was expressed by many athletes. The social support and encouragement of its members also became even more evident during her Title IX lawsuit, where she asserted her voice as an athlete.

In many ways, participating in sport was a political statement for some athletes, a way of decolonizing and even of changing the field in order to allow more diversity, a way of indigenizing it if I may. Sweeney boldly states that wrestling was his way of decolonizing a particular transcultural space and bringing more diversity to American society. He affirmed his agency through the very act of wrestling and “choking out” someone who made a racial slur. Sweeney also exemplifies that it was important to assert agency when he and his coach successfully obtained an exemption from the NCAA, which allowed him to wrestle with long hair. With the support of his coach, Sweeney acted as a cultural broker when he stood up for his identity and expressive rights as a human being. Through resiliency, people can make a difference for future generations.

Sport allowed Nanabah to assert her voice as a Navajo woman as she realized that in order to become a true leader and role model, she had to embrace and publicly acknowledge her Navajo identity, not simply blend in as a team member without an individual personality. Fortunately, for the Native athletes in this survey, sports as activities and cultural complexes of group and individualized behavior were secure life cornerstones which fostered awareness and self-efficacy and, in turn, allowed them to

347 create agency for themselves. By extension, they created notice and pride for their people since all stated that they were working hard for their people and not simply to be honored by all community members. They were not in sport for the celebrity and claim. As

Nanabah stated, “Sport gave me that sense of security, the opportunity to represent myself.” By extension, this gave her the opportunity to represent her family, her community, her Native Nation-culture, and from there, all Indians as contemporary peoples to the wider public.

F. Giving Back to Native Community through Sport

Nanabah’s words symbolize that the whole self can be enhanced through sport.

For most participants, their role as athletes was not separated from the rest of their lives, but gave them a coherent meaning. The connection to the student role discussed above is one example; the link to giving back to community through their career choice is another.

Martens and Cox (2000) found that a student athlete’s investment in the student role may be equally or more important than the athletic role when determining career choices. This was the case also for the interviewees who, however, had another variable that influenced their career choice, one that does not often surface for Euro-American students who expect to move for their employment and relocate more than once during their lifetime: the relationship to their natal community. For several American Indian collegiate athletes, their identity as an Indigenous person whose service to the community is a valued trait in adult life, helped influence their decisions. People chose careers for services and employment in areas needed on reservations. For example, although Vincent aspires to play professional baseball, he realizes he will not be able to play ball for his entire life;

348 most baseball players retire from professionalism when they are in their thirties or forties.

The same is true for other athletes; there is a finite time during which their bodies can perform at peak levels and before the wear and tear of constant and hard physical activity, training and competition take their toll. Smart athletes recognize the importance of an education in a field of their choice outside sports. A few, however, choose sports, physical education, or coaching.

Juwan continues to run professionally at a national level while coaching track and cross-country on the Hopi reservation. Frank and Darlane are pursuing doctoral degrees in order to teach college and garner resources for future generations. Ashlee and Derek are in the process of starting non-profit organizations that will provide opportunities for more American Indians to participate in the sport’s pipelines to access athletics and scholarships in college. Nanabah, April, RaeAnne, Derek, and Sweeney all desired to work with Native people through teaching, coaching, and/or mentorship. Sports and education seem to go hand-in-hand as a career choice, one that is enjoyable and will allow people to continue to do what they love their entire lives.

While their role as an athlete inspired passions to coach, teach, and advise, their role as a student provided pertinent education as a way to continue to participate in their communities in a meaningful way. Nanabah sees coaching volleyball on the Navajo reservation as “one of the most amazing experiences of my life” because she was able to use both her experience as an athlete and her education to provide services to her community. Athletic experience, whether through the very act of playing or the assertion of agency in other facets of their lives, have had a meaningful effect on who they are as

349 people today. The goals they set for themselves may have changed over the years, but they all suggest that sport was a driving factor in goal setting in the first place. Sport enabled opportunities that may have not been presented otherwise.

G. The Potential of Sport as Ceremony for Reservation Communities

Sweeney states that his identity has shifted away from being an athlete in school towards being a contributing member of his community. His activities as an athlete have allowed him, like the other athletes, to see both the potential and beauty of sports on reservations. Sweeney recalls the star quilts given by Native athletes to opposing teams and coaches and concludes that “at home it [basketball] is quite literally a ceremony…sports combined with culture transcends peoples’ thought.” Good sportsmanship and the honoring of opponents have their origins in traditional sports in many cultures.

While Sweeney will always be an athlete, even if he is not actively competing, sports and its lessons permeate all areas of his life and the way he lives today. His analogy that “sport is a metaphor for life” is similar to how other interviewees expressed the importance of sports’ lessons to their lives today. For April, volleyball is still an important part of her daily life, “although my athleticism has changed…having three kids

[laughing]…my heart and my soul is still pretty much the same.” Physical activity ensures that people will have goals and not be complacent. According to Nanabah, “It

[sport] has really utilized everything I learned in athletics into my life and it helped me inspire myself to fulfill different goals that maybe I might not have or wouldn’t have

350 learned otherwise.” Sport allows one to think beyond the status quo, to take risks, strive, and persevere.

Despite the fact that their lives no longer revolve around softball and football,

Ashlee and Derek believe that their involvement in sports for so many years has shaped their personalities and guided both their private and professional decisions even today.,

Although his identity has shifted as he has matured, Derek thinks that, as a Native man, he must look at long term consequences and strategies for obtaining things when making important decisions: “I think seven generations ahead.” This mentality forces him to think about how his decisions can affect others—including his descendants 150 years from now. While the mentality and philosophy of sport do not have such a long–term perspective, Derek finds that its opportunities fashioned how he thinks and influenced what he can give to or the lessons he wants to teach the children of his community. Sport is thus important because it offers ways for Native peoples with athletic talent and drive to successfully cross the “bridge” to college and then go back and forth between the

Euro-American and reservation worlds. I believe that the joint identities interviewees had as both Native people and athletes have made these transitions possible and inevitably successful. The athletes were introduced to sport at a young age and were supported by their families throughout their high school careers. They were also introduced to the “outside world” at a young age, which increased their confidence and desire to pursue a sport in college. The athletes obtained life skills that inevitably increased their self-assurance and ability to succeed outside of their home communities.


As previously mentioned, individual and societal American Indian identities are socially and culturally formed through connections to land, spirituality, and interrelationships. As Sweeney states, “I can say I am an Assiniboine Indian because they

[his community and relatives] say I am.” However, there is no specific identify formation process; identity formation is both unique and fluid. This fluidity and development is expressed through the American Indian student-athletes stories, both as “a means by which identities may be fashioned” (Rosenwald and Ochberg, 1992) and one by which culture is expressed (Riessman, 2005, 2008). This process yielded insight into identities, including academic, athletic, and Indigenous as they were being forged in sporting practices. While the acknowledgment of their Native identities varied, sporting practices affected the interviewees’ sense of self as a whole. Sport was thus a major source of selfidentity for these athletes growing up and continues to affect how they think of themselves after their tenure as student-athletes ended.

IV. Research Question 3: Do collegiate athletes have a lifelong motivation to maintain personal fitness and health?

I think if I hadn’t run in college I probably would have stopped running a long time ago.


Collegiate sports instill pride and discipline to help individuals reach their physical capacities in order to perform to the best of their ability. Athletes are trained physically to become stronger and faster and master their competition both mentally and emotionally. The participants each described the multiple benefits they experienced in and through these sustained physical actions. Vincent acknowledges how important this

352 is for general well-being: “You’ll have more energy, your emotions will be better, you won’t be down in the dumps, and sport is a good way to increase your self-esteem.” Since these actions were often personally challenging and internally motivating, people were prepared to transition from general physical education in K-12 into more competitive sport with fluidity and aplomb. This also gave them the tools to transition to a noncompetitive world where they were not always constantly training and preparing for the next meet or game. The athletes that are no longer playing in college have transitioned out of the competitive academic arena to spaces where they are utilizing their physical actions in other facets of their lives.

While competing in a collegiate sport has had a lasting impact on maintenance of good health for these athletes, they expressed that albeit unaware of it at the time, the importance of physical health was instilled long before college. All ten athletes expressed that they played sports growing up because they were talented, enjoyed competition, and loved sports. While sharing this common passion, the athletes articulated differing ways in which physical activity became prominent in their young lives. For example, Juwan,

Vincent, and RaeAnne mention that as they were growing up, sport became an outlet to combat the poor quality of health among their people. For them, physical activity became a means to prevent obesity and at the same time stay away from violence, drugs, and alcohol—the social dysfunctions that often seem to plague communities with high poverty rates and high unemployment. Sport, in a sense, became a life line that fostered both Nahongvita and Hozho and helped people walk in dangerous environments using the concepts valued by their ancestors that had helped them survive traumatic periods.


Similarly, Frank was introduced to the importance of physical labor at an early age growing up on the reservation. Physical labor was modeled through daily life and ultimately tied to his family’s economic well-being; if one did not work, then one would not eat. Although Frank did not start running until high school, physical agency was always a necessary part of his life.

For April, RaeAnne, and Ashlee it was their pure love for volleyball, basketball, and softball that pushed them to excel physically. Their desire to participate at highly competitive levels called for physically demanding practices and healthy lifestyle choices. Similarly, as a three sport athlete, Darlane realized that living a healthy lifestyle was a big part of success in any sport. As a result, she began eating a healthier diet and introducing running into her life in eighth grade. As a child, sport allowed Sweeney to strive for physical excellence. From life lessons instilled by his father, Sweeney knew that once he started something, it was his responsibility to finish it. Therefore, wrestling introduced him to the importance of physical health in order to advance his goals of completing what he set out to accomplish—competing without having to give up his culture identity, to fight for his rights, and to succeed in his endeavors. Growing up in mostly white towns, Derek and Nanabah viewed sport as an equalizer, where they could maintain friendships and also assert their competitive nature.

The magnitude of physical activity in the lives of these athletes varies, yet all acknowledge that college athletics created a space for fitness in their lives today. Juwan and RaeAnne were the only athletes that went on to play professional sports. While

Juwan continues to run competitively and sustains a physically demanding running

354 regimen, RaeAnne fell into a trap. She believes that being physically unfit had an effect on her short tenure as a professional basketball player. This realization helped her understand that although it may be unfeasible to maintain the competitive level of physical fitness that was demanded as a collegiate athlete, physical health needs to be an important aspect of daily life. It needs to be practiced every day.

Juwan, April, RaeAnne, and Nanabah continue to participate in sports by coaching and educating the next generation of student-athletes. As a result, sustained physical activity is not only present, but prevalent in their daily lives and this is important for all of them. Juwan believes that, “I think it [sport] teaches you a lifelong goal of loving something and keeping physically active or constantly working at your body,” which is a lesson that he transcends to his students every day. April and Nanabah, on the other hand, believe that in order to be good coaches it is imperative to practice physical health and achieve emotional, mental, and spiritual balance—to see their bodies and their minds as interconnected. Therefore, they continue to actively participate in physical activities, both with their students and during their free time. Moreover, as parents,

Sweeney, April, Nanabah, and Darlane encourage their children to enjoy and engage in sports, not only for the fun of it, but also for the lasting health benefits and as ways to learn tools and skills that will be valuable to them as they travel on life’s road.

Darlane and Frank are both pursuing graduate degrees and appreciate how physical activity is necessary for the success of their continued education. When Darlane was forced to forfeit her tennis career at Samford, she ran to maintain her physical health, emotional balance, and stamina. Now, at the University of Arizona she has “started

355 playing, like with the LRC [her doctoral department, Language, Reading and Culture] team, like with volleyball and that sort of stuff…you start to feel so good about being a part of a team.” During Frank’s hiatus from competitive running in college, he continued to run while in the military, an activity that the Army encouraged. Pursuing his degree again, he realized that without running, there was a void in his collegiate experience, causing him to try out for the track and cross-country team at University of North Dakota.

As a doctoral student today, Frank no longer runs on a collegiate team, but he competes in non-professional races around the state as a means to push himself to stay in good physical condition. This also gives him time to think, something that is all too rare in busy graduate students’ lives. When Ashlee was pursuing her masters, she began playing on a city league basketball team and a slow pitch softball team, which she continues today. Ashlee and Derek both mentioned that they continue to play on city league teams to not only keep their competitive edge, but also maintain a sense of health. They also enjoy it.

Through playing a collegiate sport, Ashlee states that she “learned what my body is capable of doing and how much I can physically push myself when trying to achieve a health goal.” One can always do more than one thinks possible. One can strive and it is the striving, the betterment that is part of the reward. Sweeney agrees, “For me, it [sport] has definitely kept me active. I know I can exercise hard and I am not going to die, I can push myself and I know I am not going to die. It’s a healthy life, it is a good life.”

Although these athletes acknowledge that they are no longer in the best physical shape of their lives, Ashlee concludes that “‘the best shape of my life’ is a benchmark and

356 something I can realistically compare my health to as [now a] non- [collegiate] athlete.”

She knows she could do it again. It will be interesting to see, as these athletes age, if they begin to participate in sports competition for older individuals, a past time that is expanding in the United States and which hopefully will thrive in reservation communities to help people stay active.

This statement exemplifies that once the collegiate sport experience is over, there are ample opportunities to utilize the many tools and life lessons sport has to offer and to continue to have a healthy body. While physical activity may not dominate the lives of these athletes as it did in college, its importance compliments their probably more sedentary existences. Their experiences in the competitive world of collegiate sports taught them the importance of health, which in turn nurtures a balance in their lives as coaches, parents, community members, scholars, and graduate students today. Juwan asserts his position of health maintenance through the words of American legend and

International track star Steve Prefontaine: “’If you have something great you have to carry on, to sacrifice a gift is to sacrifice anything less than your best.’”

V. Research Question 4: What associations/organizations exist to help and encourage

American Indian peoples participate in a collegiate sport? VI. Research Question 5:

What can be done to help young American Indians pursue sports in conjunction with higher education?

I feel it is very important to give back to the community….serve as a role model for the youth in the community by taking the lessons learned from my experience as an athlete and starting an organization that will help the athletes overcome the obstacles that stood

in my way. –Ashlee

Unfortunately, none of the participants had the opportunity to utilize an association or organization to support their athletic dreams. The two American Indian

357 athletic organizations that encourage sport in conjunction with education are the Native

American Basketball Association (NABI) and N7. These organizations were described in chapter two. I therefore chose to combine questions four and five.

Considering the lack of associations that aided in their pursuit of playing a sport in college, the athletes offered much insight into how to introduce more American Indian youth to the possibility of playing a sport in college. Juwan believes that a shared responsibility must exist between college coaches, high school coaches, and athletes themselves. For example, coming from a community with a strong running tradition, athletes must see their potential to take sport to the next level, which in turn must be fostered by coaching. As a former collegiate runner and current coach himself, Juwan acknowledges the responsibility to share his experience as an advocate for health and education through sport; “I think a lot of it is just sharing, wanting other kids to succeed, wanting individuals to succeed and just a lot of encouragement.” Along with an individual’s desire and a supportive coaching staff, Vincent believes that “the community

[Navajo] can try to motivate student athletes to go to college…to encourage them and tell them that, you know, they can play at the next level, they can play the sport they love in college. But in reality, it is up to the athlete. They really need to stay in school and keep their grades up.”

Similarly to Juwan and Vincent, Frank believes there is a shared responsibility for change to take place. Just as Vincent believes that ultimately it is up to the athlete, Frank challenges American Indian youth to take responsibility for their own future. Despite the inequalities within the sporting and education worlds, “if we just have that motivation,

358 determination and discipline and heart, then we can accomplish whatever we put our minds to.” In addition to Frank’s plea for individual motivation, Sweeney adds the importance of mentorship and the responsibility of high school coaches to not only communicate with collegiate coaches, but also foster the internal dedication that Frank mentions. Moreover, Sweeney believes collegiate coaches need to work with Native communities on a regular basis in order to nurture growth and opportunities on reservations.

A recurrent theme in his interview, Derek spoke of the importance of the collective effort to encourage collegiate sport participation, yet he realized that his experience as a former Native collegiate athlete provided ample vision into helping more

Native students pursue a sport in college. As a current athletic academic advisor, his main objective is to provide support for collegiate athletes throughout their educational career.

Considering the lack of not only American Indian athletes, but also American Indian coaches and staff, Derek is in a position to create access for more Native collegiate athletes. As previously mentioned, Derek’s aspirations is to start an “initiative to go out to the reservations and talk to these Native communities about what it takes to be a college bound student athlete. I think a lot of students these days don’t understand the recruiting process starts in 8 th

grade…the first thing you have to do to give yourself a chance to be recruitable is taking the right classes it takes to get into college.” Again, he agrees that responsibility lies as a communal effort, ranging from parents and coaches to school counselors. In order to participate in collegiate athletics, however, inspiration needs to come from within.


The American Indian female athletes parallel their male counterparts with respect to encouraging more Native youth to play a sport in college. Darlane, April, RaeAnne,

Ashlee, and Nanabah all declared that as former collegiate athletes who have experienced both wins and losses, challenges and triumphs, it is their responsibility to encourage the next generation of Native athletes. Darlane asks, “And why not us? Who can more understand and relate to not just the struggles, but the process to playing sports and going to college? Show others what the process is like and if they are really serious, how to get there.” These women aspire to be like the coaches, parents, and mentors that helped facilitate their journey; they realize they could not have competed without these multiple levels of support. RaeAnne believes that “a lot of it has to do with support, letting these kids know that they can do it. That one person who says, ‘hey I believe in you, you can do it.’ That is all kids need to hear, ‘Hey, good job.’” Moreover, Darlane offers fundamental suggestions for colleges and universities to foster environments that are conducive to not only Native athletes, but Native students in general.

While all women recognize that the support from family, high school, and college coaches is important for access and success, they equally acknowledge the importance of self-discipline and accountability on the part of student-athletes. April remembers that her self-discipline resulted from not wanting to be another “statistic” of Native athletes dropping out of college, while RaeAnne’s discipline stemmed from her community support and personal goals of earning a basketball scholarship. Similarly to RaeAnne, who is a basketball coach in Florida, Ashlee has a lifelong inspiration to provide stability and encourage education through sport. She is in the process of starting a non-profit to

360 embolden Native athletes to follow their dreams through sport and education. She believes that parents, coaches, and athletic organizations need to emphasize the importance of sport in conjunction with education. She also stresses that “Colleges and universities won’t recruit athletes unless they can perform on the field and in the classroom; this has no correlation to whether or not an individual is American Indian or not, so the importance of having a good work ethic implemented at a young age is imperative to success on collegiate fields.” Therefore, her non-profit aims to not only teach and nurture athletic skills, but also offer educational tools as well.

Nanabah gains strength from both her experience as an athlete and a coach in order to be the best role-model she can be for her players. She believes that as a coach of

Native athletes at Haskell Indian University she has the opportunity to learn from her players in order to support their collegiate experience to the best of her ability. Nanabah encourages college coaches everywhere to develop relationships with their athletes that promote both athletic and academic excellence. While she believes that the ultimate goal for Native collegiate athletes is to earn a college degree and give back to their communities, sport has the potential to enrich those opportunities. It is apparent that through these recommendations, there is vast room for the growth and development of more American Indian collegiate athletes. Sweeney candidly states,

Somehow we need to find a way to make sport culturally relevant and acceptable. It is quite literally a quality of life issue. Given the health disparity in the communities, if we can have basketball leagues and

5Ks and marathons and fun runs. Integrate that more into our communities then I think we’ll have a higher quality of life as a community. Let’s do it in the Indian Way.


As former collegiate athletes themselves, they hope that families, coaches, colleges, and universities, as well as Native youth, will hear their recommendations and implement them into their daily lives in order to foster advancement of education through sport. The athletes recognize not only the popularity of sports across reservations, but also the necessary benefits sports offer to American Indian people. Instead of concentrating on the negative connotations associated with American Indian collegiate athletes (dropping out, stereotypical Indian imagery), it is time to shift focus to how to better facilitate the process from high school to college using successful examples.

Highlighting collegiate athletes’ stories and realizing that their experiences foster change and agency is the first step toward empowering American Indian athletes, coaches, and communities.

VII. Sport as a Metaphor for Life

Sports transcend beyond the playing field for these participants. As they grew up involved in these activities, athletics became an integral aspect of their lives, not separated from their personal development. Sweeney remembers, “because I was good at it [sport], I think it is a place where we get recognition, that’s what keeps us interested in sport… that kind of solidified that it [sport] was part of my identity…becomes a part of who you are.” As youth, “sport contributed to their development” and inspired personal empowerment and the formulation of life skills, which are “those internal personal assets, characteristics and skills such as goal setting, emotional control, self-esteem, and hard work ethic that can be facilitated or developed in sport and are transferred for use in nonsport settings” (Gould and Carson, 2008, p. 60). Because life skills are “taught not

362 caught,” the very act of playing sports fostered self-discipline, self-efficacy, teamwork, confidence, work ethic, leadership, and resiliency within the participants.

Sport exposed Nanabah to the importance of a positive work ethic, psychological strength, and how to handle pressure on and off the playing field: “Sport gave me that sense of security, the opportunity to represent myself. And I was friends with everybody.” Nanabah also applied sport to her daily life: “I think it [sport] gave me confidence, it gave me the opportunity to have a level playing field with other non-Native people.” This personal empowerment through sport transferred to Sweeney’s ability to wrestler after his father died and Nanabah’s ability to create friendships in an unfriendly environment. The athletes learned how to fight for themselves on and off the playing field and exerted a confidence that encouraged self-efficacy.

Sport also provided opportunities for the participants to showcase their talent and passion outside of their home communities; it exposed the participants to “the outside world” as youth, which was beneficial when they transitioned from their home communities to college. Literature suggests that American Indians struggle to maintain a sense of ethnic identity in higher education, yet the participants were able to use sport to negotiate their transition into education, just as American Indians during the boarding school era employed sport to negotiate their passage into American society. Participating in collegiate sports was not only a goal of the interviewees; sports became an avenue to navigate the process to college. For these participants, athletics mitigated the process of transitioning into higher education and provided them with the means to assert confidence throughout this progression.


For example, Juwan, Vincent, Sweeney, Derek, Darlane, RaeAnne, and April were all recruited to play their respective sport by their particular university. Since they were pursued by the university because of their athletic talents (and offered money to play sports), the participants were afforded the choice to attend a specific institution based on its merit and their own personal preference. While Juwan chose to attend NAU because the coach recruited him from the reservation, he, RaeAnne, April, and Nanabah also selected to attend a university close to their home communities. This reflects the importance of family support and easy access to the Native society. Although Sweeney chose to attend a school that was far from his home community, he consciously selected an institution and coach that supported his Assiniboine identity. The act of choosing a school and deciding one’s own future reflects the self-efficacy of the participants and how sport directly affected other aspects of their lives; they made a selection that best suited their own goals and ability to be successful in both academics and sport.

The exertion of self-efficacy and resiliency were also present in the athletes who were not recruited to their respective university and who “walked on” to their teams.

Although Nanabah was recruited by Division II universities, her dream was to play volleyball at a Division I school, so she decided to try out for the UNM volleyball and basketball teams. Not only did she make both teams, she received a volleyball scholarship her last two years. Similarly to Nanabah, Frank and April also “walked on” to their teams. They expressed efficacy as they both decided to leave their first university due to unfair treatment. Out of their love for running and volleyball, they decided to continue their education and athletics at other institutions and once again made their

364 teams as “walk on” athletes. Participating in athletics all their lives gave the participants a confidence in not only their athletic ability, but also, and more importantly, the agency to fight for a spot on the team. The athletes who were not recruited to their dream school expressed resiliency through both the choice of pursuing their dream and act of trying out for their respective teams.

When asked if he was a successful athlete, Frank stated, “Yes, I finished.” The very act of competing and finishing, or completing goals, expresses resiliency, especially for Frank who was faced with racism and adversity throughout his collegiate running career. The fact that all of the participants graduated from college is a tribute to their selfdiscipline and self-efficacy. Although not all participants played sport throughout their entire college experience, athletics offered an opportunity to attend college and engrained the importance of work ethic and achieving goals in athletics and life. To these youth athletes, sports offered guidance and a safe space to develop physical, emotional, and mental skills; as collegiate athletes, these skills were honed and further adapted to other aspects of their lives. The importance of physical activity remains a constant in their lives and attributes to the powerful influence sport had on their life goals.

Sweeney candidly states, “Even today, my whole way of navigating professional space is based on the way that I wrestled. I stay in good position and if an opportunity presents itself, you take it, you commit yourself and you finish, that is how you will win this metaphorical match. Sport is a metaphor for life. Yes, sport is a metaphor for life.”

Nanabah adds, “I think that sport brings so much. Just the values and basic life principals and all of those things that are in sports are what you utilize in everyday life. To mature

365 and grow and to be strong leaders who can later go back into their communities.”

Athletics provided these participants with valuable life skills and psychological benefits in order to overcome adversity and become involved members of their communities, as leaders in education and athletics. Nanabah continues, “I have really utilized everything I learned in athletics into my life and it helped me inspire myself to fulfill different goals that maybe I might not have or wouldn’t have learned otherwise.” Sport offers meaningful experiences through setting, working towards, and achieving goals. These ten athletes found sport as an avenue to assert self-efficacy in other aspects of their lives, including the maintenance of identity, earning college degrees, and giving back to their

Native communities through their educational and athletic achievements.




On April 7, 2013 the Louisville women’s basketball team clinched their spot in the NCAA Division I Championship game by captivating the biggest upset in women’s college basketball history. Avid basketball fans were not the only ones glued to ESPN, as

American Indians across the nation were cheering on the Schimmel sisters of Louisville.

Shoni and Jude Schimmel grew up on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla reservation in eastern Oregon and have become the most well-known and talked about

American Indian athletes this decade. Their talent on the court and continuous reference to their Native identity has caught the attention of American Indian people around the country. Although basketball has long been the most popular sport on reservations, seldom has that esteem translated into great performances at the highest college ranks. In the 2011-2012 academic year, only 21 women and four men identified as American

Indian/Alaska Native among the 10,151 basketball players at the Division I level (Irick,

Erin, 2011). As Shoni, the star of the team, and Jude, the talented passer and play maker, took the court in New Orleans, American Indians from all around the nation came in support, holding up signs that said “Rez Girls Rock,” “Native Pride,” and “Never Give

Up.” Social media sites filtered hundreds of pictures of the sisters with quotes eliciting basketball in conjunction with Native pride: “Shoni and Jude have Louisville playing

“Rez ball,” a ferocious, attacking style of basketball, fueled by passion, creativity, and relentless aggressiveness.” The “Schimmel Showdown” craze exemplifies that basketball serves a passionate communal purpose and provides an objective measure of success for

367 players and fans alike. The following statement was circulated around Facebook just minutes before the Schimmel sisters took the court:

The time has come. The Schimmel Show takes the court in a final four game that pits Louisville against California and the whole nation is watching. Lets all unite, every Indian in the country, everyone, everywhere, let us watch, update and tweet like frenzied warriors. This is history in the making. Get ready to smudge your TVs. Shoni! Jude!

Umatilla Thrilla! (, 2013)

Although Louisville lost the championship game to University of Connecticut, the

Schimmel sisters made a lasting impact on American Indian youth around the country:

What an incredible run to the NCAA championship, Louisville women’s basketball team! Indian country and the Northwest are full of pride for all of these great athletes, but especially our tribal members Shoni and

Jude Schimmel. Shoni and Jude are powerful role models for all youth but especially our tribal kids who have seen them work hard and pursue a dream. (Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation/Facebook


As aired at the 2007 Sports Industry Awards in London, Nelson Mandela is quoted saying that “sport speaks a language which is understood by everyone in the world.” While this statement reveals that sports may be understood by everyone in the world, it is interpreted very differently, given place and context. For American Indian people, sports are grounded in culture and community and mirror a unique connection with the assertion of American Indian identity. The fluidity and prevalence of sports played by American Indian people and communities reflects the plausibility this activity enhancing health and access to education. Sports have emerged from a traditional source of strength to a means of improving health and fostering education for American Indian individuals, families, and communities. Today, “Basketball has become a necessary and

368 relevant piece of Native culture. Granted, it’s a new piece of our culture, but it is there— like most pieces of our culture—is dedicated to our children’s survival. Until we find out

what those needs are to reinvigorate Indian children’s sense of purpose, basketball will have to do” (Ross, 2012, p. 3). This quote embodies truth, as reflected through the ten athletes’ narratives provided; sport compliments and provides agency for who they are as

Native people.

Sweeney believes that sport constitutes “a pretty special place because sometimes it transcends typical race relations than you would normally see. It is a place where…you are respectful of each other’s differences and are working towards the same thing.” For

Sweeney and the other participants sports occupy a special place in their lives, as “it really was a unique opportunity for all of us to get to know each other and to set aside some of our stereotypes and our bias.” The potential benefits of sport in their communities and the recommendations the athletes propose are unfortunately a rarity in both scholarship and social media. As sport is celebrated as a path to racial equality and an arena for multicultural understanding in America, racial ideologies continue to shape the ways in which individuals and institutions play, watch, describe, organize, and imagine sports (King, 2005, p. 212). The hardiness of racism has profound implications for the representation of American Indian athletes.

When American Indian athletes become the subject of public discussion they all too often get lost in Euro-American preoccupation and values (King, 2005). The 1987

Denver Post article, “Sporting Dreams Die on the ‘Rez’” by Kevin Simpson, like Selena

Roberts 2001 New York Time article, “Off-Field Hurdles Stymie Indian Athletes” nicely

369 illustrate this pervasive pattern. Both Simpson and Roberts reported on American Indian athletes, focusing primarily on the obstacles that prevent them from excelling in the academic and the professional realms: the influence of drugs and alcohol, prejudice and misunderstanding, lack of opportunity, coaches who are unwilling to recruit athletes form reservations, the isolation of reservation communities, athletes’ attachment to family and community, the suppression of individualism, jealousy and conflict within Indigenous communities, and the inability to adjust to white institutions and expectations (King,

2005, p. xxiv). Simpson reports an example of a coach speaking about one of his

American Indian recruits: “‘I hate to stereotype,’ said Paulsen [coach], ‘but is he the typical Indian kid? If Willie [athlete] comes and doesn’t make it, nobody will be surprised. My concern is that he’ll go home for the weekend and say he’ll be back

Monday. Which Monday?’” (Simpson, 2009, p. 287). Simpson goes on to say, “Talented

Indians are diverted from their academic and athletic career courses…they are sucked back to subsistence-level life on the reservation by the vacuum created by inadequate education and readily available escapes like drugs and alcohol” (Simpson, 2009, p. 287).

This limiting and frankly biased picture that focuses on difficulties and potential obstacles without success as well as the evidence that the reporters are scared of poverty, defines American Indian athletes as “missed opportunities” rather than athletes. This image, and in many ways fantasy, further advances the invisibility of American Indians through familiar clichés and stereotypes. Also, we can question whether it is true—I did not meet one athlete who used drugs and I did not perceive the athletes as missed opportunities. The common literature about American Indian collegiate athletes would

370 explain that these ten athletes are exceptions, not the rule. From my standpoint they are the rule—not the exception.

Roberts notes that with the exception of Jim Thorpe, Billy Mills, and Notah

Begay, “Native American athletes have not made the leap to the highest level of

American sport” (as quoted in King, 2005, p. xxiv). Although Simpson and Roberts are right to direct attention to the seeming absence of American Indian athletes on people’s top 100 athletes list, they show a very limited knowledge of the many Indigenous men and women who have participated and excelled in sports at the intercollegiate, professional, and international levels. There have been over two hundred athletes over the last century who competed at the highest levels (Oxendine, 1998; King, 2005)., a website created by two former American Indian college students to promote awareness of Native American athletes competing in a wide variety of college and professional sports to the public and Native community online, currently displays twenty-eight professional American Indian athletes. While searching other websites, I have found more than twenty-eight, especially when I included minor league and amateur teams in my criteria.

We can narrow our searches too far and basically define Native Americans out of inclusion. To claim that there have only been three successful “big league” athletes is not only misleading, it also suggests that only athletes who become famous or nationally known matter, thus “neglecting in the process the numerous local contexts in which

Native Americans play sports and what that participation means to the athletes and their communities” (King, 2005, p. xxv). One of the central tenets of American Indian Studies

371 is that local situations are incredibly important for understanding Native communities and their cultures. It is the communities, not the celebrity success that matters; they are the role models for this and the next generation. Sports and activity do matter—not so much winning an Olympic gold medal or being considered the best in the world. That is not the lesson learned from this research.

As King (2005) concludes, “Too often ignored in sports studies and public culture, Native American athletes deserve, nay demand, attention” (p. 248). When athletes have been featured in the literature, they have normally been presented as passive subjects of a powerful infrastructure. They are portrayed as commodified, alienated, and exploited individuals because they are part of victimized groups. One does not get the story of resiliency and endurance because the richness and complexity of these individuals’ daily lives are often lost. By considering sport as a contact zone, scholarship must attend and interrogate identity and culture, exchanges and appropriations, assimilation and resistance, as well as sport as a facet of resiliency. In order to fully appreciate the articulations of race, power, and negotiation in sport, American Indians and American Indian identity must be considered; race relations must go beyond the black and white binary. In many ways, sport has been defined as a Euro-American domain and many scholars are not aware of the rich heritage and lasting contributions of

Indigenous peoples and communities, as well as of sport’s connection to important issues such as policy, economics, sovereignty, self-determination, and spirituality. More importantly, sport creates opportunities for accomplishment for one’s self, family, and community.


This dissertation refuses to fall back on essentializing—easy generalizations, popular clichés, and ethnocentric biases—to render the American Indian sporting experience tangible and meaningful to a largely non-Native audience. While scholarship tends to focus on the limitations of American Indian athletes, or romanticize an athlete’s

“Indianness,” there is scholarship that refuses to see American Indian athletes as limited actors in the world of mainstream sports. For example, C. Richard King’s work strives to correct stereotypes and nurture American Indian athletes as the potential agents of positive change they can be. In King’s (2005) article, “Notes on Notah Begay, Race, and

Sports,” he clarifies the themes and techniques through which authors, audiences, and athletes make Indigenous athletes visible; how they make their achievements within and beyond sport meaningful and readable. He does so by examining the career of the young

Navajo/Pueblo professional golfer Notah Begay. Begay is one of the most discussed

American Indian athletes of the last quarter century because of his successes and failures, his celebrity, his heritage, his abilities, his dedication to excellence, and his efforts to serve as a representative and role model for Indigenous people. By unpacking Begay’s life as portrayed in the media, by seeing the depictions and scripts as kinds of texts, King found that nearly every piece about Begay rendered and confined his Indian identity to the past and his success to traditions no longer practiced in ways in which non-Native athletes do not have to contend--or are tropes by which they are not confined. How can a

Native be a contemporary American? King represents upward mobility and racial equality and proposes that Begay balances the best of both worlds (King, 2005). It is

373 simply a new form of assimilation and acculturation, the only way to success in a seemingly pluralistic society.

King believes that as an American Indian golfer Begay “lives and plays betwixt and between cultural categories…as a social agent, he actively poaches from both Euro-

American and Native American traditions to fashion himself…he symbolically mediates, encouraging diverse interpretations” (2005, p. 224). Begay’s presence routinely turns attention to historical inequities and abuses in a way that narratives about race and hybridity often avoid. Begay blatantly states, “I’m not an activist…I’m an advocate—an advocate of positive American Indian issues…It goes beyond trophies. The legacy that I want is that I made a difference in the lives of kids” (as quoted in King, 2005, p. 222). In

January, 2013, Begay joined the NBC network as a golf anchor. About his recent employment and braking of barriers, Begay stated, “You’d be hard-pressed to find a fullblooded Native American on any channel doing anything. They’ve [Native Americans] been so oppressed, we’re lucky to see our kids graduate from high school. When I took the job here I set a precedent” (Hiestand, 2013). Begay reminds us that post-Civil Rights

America manifests multiple, overlapping, and contradictory readings and must be studied accordingly.

In the 2009 report “Promoting Positive Youth Development through Physical

Activity” commissioned by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Weiss and Wiese-Bjornstal identify “developmental variables” or “personal attributes” associated with successfully playing sports. Some of these are positive and some negative. These include: motor and sport-specific skills, general health and fitness,

374 substance use, self-esteem/mastery/efficacy, autonomy, resilience, body image, social and emotional competence, moral development, pro-social behaviors, educational and occupational outcomes, and a vision for the future. Positive youth development refers to the expansion of “personal skills or assets, including cognitive, social, emotional, and intellectual qualities necessary for youth to become successfully functioning members of society” (p.1). While this definition illuminates personal or individual growth, I challenge us to take youth development to another level; to examine the many ways that youth development can be defined in connection with sport programs, as well as personal development in connection to social and community development.

As young people in the United States continue to take their skills to progressively higher levels in sport programs, they have great potential to see themselves improving at an individual level. If this is in fact the case, there is little room for personal development in relationship to their local communities or an invested interest beyond their family or team. If a young person does succeed and wants to “give back” to his or her community, to whom do they give back when their parents and elite clubs were the only forms of support? Youth organizations and youth empowerment programs need to define development in ways that go beyond improving personal attributes where people can compete successfully and not simply focus on individual winning. One of the most important indicators of personal development for young people is “their ability to increasingly recognize their potential for making contributions to the public sphere”

(Gambone, Yu, Lewis-Charp, Sipe, and Lacoe, 2006). Thus, youth programs that incorporate civic and community engagement into the sports activities facilitate the

375 highest potential for overall healthy growth, development, and possibility to give back in the future.

For the American Indian athletes met in this dissertation, their willingness and aptitude to give back to their communities is frequently noted in the narratives.

Connections to a community as strength for athletes rather than a deficit—something that takes them away from practice or competition, are too often overlooked and negated by the image of the “limited” Indian athlete.

Future research will need to explore what sports, health, and fitness mean to

American Indian athletes at every level of competition. It will also need to include the voice of both American Indian and non-Native collegiate coaches. A coach’s experience and insight were fundamental influences on the athlete’s collegiate lives.

Historically in American Indian societies, physical activity and sports held a prominent role in daily life. Over the last decade, Native communities and organizations have recognized the importance of re-establishing these undertakings as part of tribal traditions to ensure good health and that appropriate cultural paths set forth by ancestors continue to be followed. By addressing these issues, I had the opportunity to explore the multiple levels of sports in relation to American Indian people’s access to higher education.

This dissertation explored the impact of sports on ten American Indian collegiate athletes to identify the factors that both facilitated and inhibited them from the pursuit of athletics in college and earning a higher degree. It provides the first in-depth analysis of the athletic lives of ten American Indian collegiate athletes who were kind enough to

376 share their collegiate experiences. This dissertation aimed to give voice to these contemporary American Indian collegiate athletes and serve as a platform to bring forth the experiences and feelings of more athletes in the future—collegiate, professional, and amateurs; those in major leagues, minor leagues, and amateur leagues. My project involves American Indian athletes’ conscious act of becoming agents in appropriating their experience as collegiate athletes and how that intersects multiple spaces of their lives. In focusing on American Indian athletes as active agents and not just passive subjects, I have tried to avoid the contradictions and preconceptions that characterize much of the work and thought surrounding American Indian people and offer new information and ideas to consider about the connections between American Indian people, sport, and education.

The American Indian collegiate athletes in this dissertation provided insight into the variables that aided and hindered their pursuit and success in sport and education at the university level. The variables while pursuing a sport in college included: family support and parent/sibling role models; introduction to sport at a young age; access to competition outside of community; motivation to attend college through sport and supportive coaching. Coaches were essential in not only providing foundational sport skills and development, but also in motivating the athletes to compete in college and offering the necessary means to do so. For example, the athletes’ adolescent and high school coaches not only displayed what the athletes hoped for in a college coach, they also aided in creating recruitment videos and talking with collegiate coaches.


Sport provided access to college and also a vehicle for college maintenance through athletic scholarships and academic standards. While in college, the variables included: financial support (athletic, tribal, academic); academic standards (GPA, success as student); proximity to home community and family; yearning to act as role model for future generations; support of coaches; identity as an athlete; identity as a tribal member; sport departments as a cohesive social and support unit; and team as pseudo family.

These variables emerged from the vantage point of the lived experiences of ten people who have been outstanding and thoughtful practitioners as American Indian athletes, educators, and community members.

Their voices, stories, and experiences have not received the primacy they deserve.

Because of this oversight, the experiences of all American Indian collegiate athletes remain underexplored. Although articles have been written about athletes in their tribal communities, these newspapers often have limited circulation or have tribal-specific distribution. While this has allowed the athletes to be known and respected within their communities, they remain essentially unknown outside of them. Even in works specifically dedicated to the American Indian mascot issue and collegiate athletes in general, American Indian collegiate athletes are nearly non-existent as a topic of discussion. Maybe these voices have been silent because very few have been asked to share their knowledge, perspectives, and experiences. It is time – well past time – to end the silence and positively address this disparity in understanding. From the beginning, the intent of this project has been to explore the experiences of several American Indian collegiate athletes, to collect their stories in order to give voice to those narratives, and

378 then to analyze this information in order to place it within the broader context of Native education and United States sports history.

While this study begins to reverse the invisibility of American Indian collegiate athletes, it expands beyond providing a space for telling of experiences. The literature on traditional Indigenous sport reveals that American Indian people have a long and exhaustive relationship with physical activity on many levels, spiritually, physically, relationally, educationally, and through communication and trade. Physical education and sport were an integral aspect of daily life and necessary for survival and persistence. As

America transitioned into a sports nation at the turn of the twentieth century, the

American Indian athlete emerged and excelled within American Indian boarding schools.

Sport in boarding school facilitated a new aspect of survival for American Indian students; it allowed the assertion of agency and identity during a time when American

Indian culture was seen as a “white man’s burden” and government policy called for educating, Christianizing, and civilizing the conquered Indians (Gems, 2005, p. 2).

Boarding schools and professional American Indian athletes participated in a contact zone in which, athletes used their talents to speak for themselves in a time when they were shunned for being Native and stigmatized by racism and stereotypes. American

Indian athletes were directly affected by this racial hegemony, where their labels as

“Chief” or “savage” were tied to their athletic ability. This is exemplified by the Oorang

Indians and the “supernatural bond between Indians and animals” (Springwood, 2005, p.

126). As Native people, their popularity and the public interest they generated was tied to their athletic performance: if they excelled, it was because of their natural


“indianness”; if they failed, it was due to “laziness” or being a “drunk Indian.” The twentieth century American Indian professional athlete not only had to act as an athletic

“creature” but also as an American “commodity.”

As sport emerged as a contact zone in boarding schools and for American Indian amateur and professional athletes through the first half of the twentieth century, it not only encouraged Native peoples’ assimilation, but also facilitated the preservation of cultural traditions and the reformulation of cultural identities. “Given the assimilationist aims of the BIA educational system,” Alice Littlefield notes, “athletic prowess became a symbol of Indian identity and Indian pride” (1989, p. 438). Sports thus provided a means to attack the center of American racism and colonial ideology. The racist and stereotypical term “Chief” was used, as Oxendine points out, “to say, ‘Hey, you’re an

Indian. Therefore, that’s how I can define you and keep you in your place’” (Powers-

Beck, 2005, p. 81). While American Indian athletes during this time faced isolation in the professional arena and assimilation forces within boarding schools, sports had the ability to present, at least ideologically, the image of a level playing field that provided opportunities for “moral victory.” In one of the only books that represents the Native athletic voice, Bloom (2000) exemplifies that through their athletic contests, boarding school students, and Native Americans more generally, celebrated a popular nationalism that showed “what an Indian can do” (p. 129). The opportunity to win a fair fight helped

Native people to understand that bigger social losses came about as the result of battles that were not fair, and as products of historical forces. Listening and learning about the past is a good first step toward understanding that problems like poor access to and

380 retention in higher education, poverty, and unemployment on reservations grow out of historical circumstances that have benefited non-Natives at the expense of Native peoples, and not out of deficiencies of Native culture. The history of American Indian athletics does not just account for the pleasure that many American Indian athletes have received from participating in sports; it also reveals experiences and histories that are relevant and alive in the present (Bloom, 2000).

While literature concerning American Indian boarding school athletes predominantly focuses on Jim Thorpe, Deloria reminds us that American gridirons and dugouts were “peppered with Indian athletes” in the twentieth century (as quoted in

Staurowsky, 2006, p. 192). Deloria’s declaration compliments the presence of American

Indian collegiate athletes today as they are “peppered” throughout NCAA divisions I, II and III. Similarly to professional baseball and football players in the early and midtwentieth century, current American Indian collegiate athletes walk their collegiate journey as the only Native athletes on their team or in their school.

As a past collegiate tennis player, sport has impressed work ethic, health maintenance, and overall balance in my life. For me, and the ten student-athletes interviewed, sport goes beyond the playing field and infiltrates other aspects of our lives.

These stories are, in part, stories of becoming—stories of what these ten individuals have become despite the conflicting role of the American Indian collegiate athlete. In this process of becoming, these individuals began to see themselves as role models, educators, and social agents of change. The term resiliency has been used throughout this analysis to describe the actions of the American Indian collegiate athletes. Resiliency is a

381 word used to define a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity (Benard, 1995). Persons who are resilient have the capacity to withstand, overcome, or recover from serious threat (Masten, 2001).

Simply put, resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience in the face of adversity is not new to American Indian people; they have survived numerous genocidal practices, including removal from homelands, the imposition of the reservation system, and the implementation of boarding schools which aimed to destroy Indigenous identity and culture. American Indian people have withstood drastic changes in sociopolitical, cultural, and physical environments.

Today, a common misconception about American Indian people is that their race, ethnicity, family structure, and economic status are the major factors affecting their success or failure in school and, ultimately, in life. This misconception leads educators and others to view Native people as coming from such deficient circumstances that they cannot be expected to thrive. This remains true for the American Indian collegiate athlete.

The minimal literature dealing with them aims to victimize and criticize American Indian culture and people as a justification to why there are so few American Indian collegiate athletes. King (2005) concludes that contemporary literature surrounding Native athletes reiterates the classic lament, “Lo, the poor Indian,” as the authors confine them (and

Indigenous people more generally) within stories of tragedy (missed opportunities, premature deaths, unfulfilled dreams) and descriptions of desolation and disadvantage

(the reservation and its social problems) (p. xxv). As American Indian athletes maneuver through a contact zone while in college, the literature suggests that they do not have any

382 means to assert agency and they simply “return home” (Simpson, 2009). However,

Bloom (2000), Gems (2005), and King (2005) conclude that “Native Americans have long used sport as a means to achieve a sense of pride, self-esteem, and respect” (Gems,

2005, p. 1). American Indian people have historically and continue to negotiate their own identity through sport despite the prevailing racism and stereotypes that have been central to dominant interpretations of American Indian athletes.

During the boarding school era, athletes opened a space in which American

Indians could extract symbolic revenge. Bloom (2000) notes that within boarding schools, “to play and beat white teams was even a higher achievement” (p. 54). During this era then, American Indian athletes have fostered ethnic identity and pride, served as role models, and evoked great joy and happiness at the hands of grave adversity.

American Indian boarding school athletes were resilient as they lived in two worlds, bridging both cultures and adapting to or adopting the dominant norms when necessary or beneficial (Gems, 2005, p. 3). Sport served as a meeting place for transformation and persistence, for distinct, even mutually exclusive Indian and white interpretations, and for shared understandings. Similarly to boarding school athletes, the stories exposed by these ten American Indian collegiate athletes express their ability to become stronger through resilient adaptation by learning new skills, developing creative ways of coping, and meeting and overcoming life’s challenges.

Although the participants’ tenure in college was in a different time period than the boarding school athletes, they too entered a contact zone; they left home and communities to enter into a western institution where they were the overwhelming

383 minority, they were dependent on coaches for their well-being, and many experienced racism and/or unjust treatment. Yet, they also expressed agency and resilience through sport by exerting pride through their American Indian identities, forging new relationships and friendships with coaches and teammates, continuing their education after their athletic career had concluded, and acting as sources of strength to their own communities and American Indian athletes of all ages. The importance of family, community, and overall Native cultural values and identity were critical elements in their ability to be resilient.

The themes expressed through these athletic narratives convey the personal challenges and triumphs of playing a collegiate sport. While all of these athletes matriculated into college to nurture their love for sport, they graduated with an education and desire to give back to their communities. Through the difficulties of being away from home, feeling shunned by coaches and teammates, and the experience of racism, these athletes used their own American Indian identities and support systems to facilitate their way through college.

These ten student-athletes are distinctive at an individual level, yet exceptional as a group. They refute the notion that space is limited and scarce for American Indian people not only as collegiate athletes, but also as college students and scholars. In their book Out of Bounds: When Scholarship Athletes Become Academic Scholars (2010),

Mahiri and Van Rheenen contextualized the constraints and possibilities of athletes moving beyond boundaries and trajectories of sporting practices in order to become professional scholars and discuss how young people’s sport and school experiences can

384 be improved to better support their intellectual and physical growth and development (p.

2). Similarly to the findings in their work that athletes must become active agents and not just passive subjects in order to move through and beyond boundaries, these ten

American Indian students, athletes, teachers, parents, coaches, scholars, and community members represent acts of agency; their resiliency through both academia and athletics fostered tools for maneuvering Euro-American institutions, as well as insights into how their identity as students, athletes, and Native people can benefit their own communities.

Sweeney believes that “sport combined with culture transcended people’s thoughts… And I think the more we can find a space of Natives doing their sport, no matter what sport it is their way, [it] is the avenue to college. Because it makes the culture relevant.” Juwan describes college as “the best years of my life” and “It [sport] really disciplined me.” In order for more American Indian people to experience the joy of playing a collegiate sport, as these ten athletes have, teachers, coaches, and administrators need to be more keenly aware of and able to accommodate diverse styles and needs for participation in the classroom and on the playing fields.

As a nation, we need to change the language and practices of sport and school to include rather than exclude; we need to redefine measures of success and offer more rather than fewer opportunities for mobility and freedom (Mahiri and Van Rheenen,

2010, p. 113); we need to make the institutions and practices of sport and education more supportive and expansive in order to allow opportunities for developing young people’s intellectual and physical capabilities in school and life. Particularly for American Indians,

Frank believes that colleges need to “recruit more Natives for one thing. Also have some

385 kind of thing between colleges and reservations, some kind of a program.” The program that Frank is speaking of is concretized in both Derek’s and Ashlee’s initiatives: the first is as an educational organization to inform students of the process it takes to “go from

Window Rock to Phoenix” so they can be successful; the second is a non-profit to encourage Native athletes to follow their dreams through sport and education. Through their athleticism, educational aspirations, health maintenance, and ambitions to give back to those who provided so openly to them, these ten athletes elicit Sweeney’s belief that

“sport is a metaphor for life.”












American Indian Collegiate Athlete Questions:

The following questions are asked to get some information on American Indian athletes and what has been their experiences as well as what their particular form of sport means to them and others who are significant in their lives. The results will be helpful in identifying some challenges as well as achievements. This information is intended to help other aspiring athletes.

Section 1: Background

Code Number:



The Interest in Sports

Where did you grow up?

In what way were you introduced into sports?

What age where you introduced to sports?

What kept you interested in playing sports?

What kinds of sports are popular in your community?

What were some of the sports you played growing up?

If played on any organized teams or leagues, what were some of the challenges or rewards?

When did you first start playing sports competitively?

What motivated you to be physically active?

Which members of your family play sports?

Who was a role model for you while you were growing up? Why did you choose to play sports?

What agency or group helped promote the importance of sports/physical activity for you or in your community? How so?

How did you decide to play sports in high school?

Did you play high school sports on your reservation? If not, where did you play? Where there a lot of other American Indian players on your team, in your league?

Where you a successful high school player? How did you measure your success? How did other people measure your success?

How were your high school academics? What was your GPA?

Did anyone talk to you and tell you about the possibility of playing a sport in college?

Section 2: College Experience

What Sport(s) did you play in college?

College(s) Attended/Years?


College Division/League?


If you had to change your Major/Minor, what were the circumstances? What plans had you made after college, for a career?

Degree earned?

What types of financial aid did you seek to help with college expenses?

In what ways did your tribe aid you in college preparation?

In what ways did you feel academically prepared when you got to college?

What motivated you to want to go to a particular college?

How did sports aid in your decision to pursue a college degree?

If there was a choice, would you have attended college if it were not for sports?

How did you choose the college you attended?

Were you recruited to play your sport? If so, by whom?

Did you have to travel anywhere in order to be seen by recruiters?

Do you feel you made any sacrifices in order to play a sport in college?

Did you receive financial aid from the college you attended?

Did you enjoy your college experience?

Did you enjoy playing your sport in college?

How did playing your sport affect your college experience?

Where you involved with any other extra-curricular activity in college?

What was the American Indian population at your college? How was your involvement with American Indian activities on campus?

How many other American Indian athletes were on your team? Played other sports at your college? Did you play against?

Was your team/coach/school aware of your American Indian heritage? How did this affect you both on and off the playing field?

How did your coach encourage academics? Study hall, tutor, etc.?

Did traveling/practice/team demands hurt your GPA/academics? If so, how?

Did you ever feel like dropping out of college? If so, how did sports help you continue on?

How were you involved in your community while attending college?

In what ways did your community support you while in college?

What were some of the challenges being an American Indian athlete?

In what ways was gender or racial bias experienced in your college sport?

Do you feel your community helped you prepare for college? Physically, financially, academically?

Section 3: Identity:

How do you define identity for yourself?

How has your identity shifted over time, particularly when you were a college athlete?

What aspects of identity did participating in a college sport impact, change, shift?

Did you feel that you had to sacrifice your identity in order to be successful in college sports?

Did your identity help your success as a student-athlete?


Section 4: Life after College:

Did you continue to play after college? On leagues/Professional/Amateur? Did you coach?

With the lack of American Indian collegiate athletes, what do you think that communities can do to aid in increasing this number? What do you think that colleges/universities can do to increase these numbers? What do you think families can do to increase these numbers?

Now that you are out of college, have you worked with any youth programs? Do you feel that it is important to give back to your community, or serve as a role model for youth? If so, why and how might you go about doing this, if you aren’t already?

Why do you think we see so little American Indian collegiate athletes?

Do you feel like a role model to American Indian youth? If so, how?

Are you aware of any mentorship programs to help encourage youth to attend college?

Play a sport in college?

My goal is to start a mentorship program, to have collegiate athletes talk with American

Indian youth about the importance of physical activity/athletics/sports! How do you feel about this? Could this have helped you? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Section 5: Health Benefits

What do sports teach you about health maintenance throughout life?

How has athletics helped you remain healthy during college? After college?

With the high percentage of obesity and type 2 diabetes in American Indian communities, particularly youth, how do you think increasing physical activity and sports on reservations can aid in decreasing these numbers?

What do you think is the first step in taking action against obesity and type 2 diabetes in

American Indian youth?

What is your own community doing to take action against obesity and type 2 diabetes? Is there physical activity/sports programs on your reservation?

Do you see American Indian youth getting involved in sports? Do you recognize that they are aware of all the benefits of sports/physical activity?

What do you think needs to be done in order to get more youth interested in sports?

Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

















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