Native American Athletes in the Olympics & Super Bowl

Native Americans are highly accomplished in sports, from the Super Bowl to the Winter Olympics. Then known as International Winter Sports Week of the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics, the first Winter Olympics were in Chamonix, France. Clarence John Abel (aka “Taffy) from the Chippewa Indian Sault First Nation participated. He was the U.S. flag bearer and played on the U.S. Olympic hockey team, scoring 15 goals. Soon after, he was recruited by the New York Rangers (1926-29) and Chicago Black Hawks (1929-1934). As a member of two Stanley Cup championship teams, Abel was among the first inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

Any story on Native athletes would be incomplete without a mention of Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills. Jim Thorpe from the Sac and Fox Tribe won two gold medals during the 1912 Olympics. Often referred to as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, his athletic career started at the Carlisle Indian Boarding School with football and track. Thorpe played baseball for the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds. He also played major league baseball for the Boston Braves back when the city had two pro teams. In 1964, Billy Mills from the Oglala Sioux Tribe became the second Native American to win Olympic gold. He was also the only American to win the gold medal for the 10,000-meter run.

Fast forward 100 years to February 11th. Two Indigenous players with the Kansas City Chiefs will face off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII. Center Creed Humphrey from the Potawatomi Nation and long snapper James Winchester from the Choctaw Nation will be on the field. This is Kansas City’s fourth championship game in five seasons.

PWNA Connections to Athletes

Shifting gears a bit, these Native American athletes and teams have connections to Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA):

  • Football: Canadian Eli Ankou is Ojibwe and defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons. He has also played for the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Eli was one of the 800 players who took the field in the 2018 My Cause My Cleats campaign. Then #54 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Eli chose PWNA as his cause/charity to raise awareness and inspire Native youth.
  • Baseball:  Jacoby Ellsbury from the Colorado River Indian Tribes was the first Navajo to play in the major leagues. MLB All-Star and a member of two World Series Championships, he played for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. In 2010, Jacoby partnered with sports marketing agency Charity Hop to create “Zinfandellsbury” wine and shared the proceeds with his three charities: Project Bread, the Ellsbury-Read Character Strength Project, and our Navajo Relief Fund program.
  • Basketball:  Cherokee Parks is from the Navajo Nation. He played for the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Vancouver Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors. Cherokee is now retired from the NBA after a serious injury. He played in both the U19 and U21 FIBA World Championships, winning gold both times. PWNA was honored to celebrate Native American Heritage Day with the Dallas Mavericks a few years ago.

Representing Tribal Nations

Some Native American athletes to watch include the Thompson Brothers from the Onondaga Nation (lacrosse), Teton Saltes from the Oglala Sioux Nation (XFL football), Lauren Schad from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (pro volleyball), and Mariah Bahe from the Navajo Nation (boxing). All these Native athletes and more are setting new records, representing their Tribal Nations, and breaking stereotypes about being Indigenous.

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