Madison Hammond didn’t want to be a trailblazer. But when she was on this path, she did not turn back.
“I’m just trying to make it as good as possible for myself,” he said angel city midfielder said. “But I’ve become, for lack of a better term, an inspiration to a lot of kids.”
While she says it humbly, there’s certainly a lot about Hammond to be found inspirational. She was a rookie with Wake Forest for four years, where she also played violin in the school orchestra, served on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-academic team four times, and was a member of the National Honor Society and various honor societies in Spanish, science, and history.
And all of that happened Before She became a professional soccer player, and that’s where the other inspirational thing comes in. When Hammond starred in the OL Reign as a non-cadre invitee in 2020, she became the first Native American woman in NWSL history — and an influence for others who, like many in her family, grew up on a reservation.
“I didn’t even know I was the first native player in the NWSL. I’m just Madison,” said Hammond, who is Navajo, San Felipe and Black. Although raised in New Mexico, she moved to Virginia with her mother, Carol Lincoln, who works with the US Public Health Service, in fifth grade, leaving much of her family in the Southwest. And while she’s long understood and appreciated her background, it’s only recently that she’s realized what it means to others.
“I met a girl from the Navajo Nation after that [a] game and she was just so excited to see me,” Hammond said. “I don’t take myself that seriously but I gave her my jersey and to see how much it meant to her clearly it kind of changes your perspective on what sport can do for young people and young people of all backgrounds.
“I’m really grateful for that, that I even have a little platform for it.”
This small platform got a little bigger with the release of “Katishtya Girl”, a mini-documentary this follows Hammond from Los Angeles back to her family in San Felipe Pueblo – Katishtya, in the native language spoken by her Pueblo family members – 25 miles north of Albuquerque. In the 5-minute, 26-second film, released last month and available on YouTube, Hammond talks about her start in football as a 5-year-old who was soon to play on boys’ teams, and the stress of being the first homegrown player to be.
“There was doubt and all, but she got through it and I’m just incredibly proud to see what she means to the community,” said Lincoln, who raised Hammond as a single mom. “The great thing about being a Native American is the communities, they embrace you.”
In the documentary, Hammond also opens up about the mental challenges she struggled with last season after moving from OL Reign, where she was a central defender, to Angel City, where she only played 321 minutes of the regular season .
“The last year has been very tough,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself as an athlete, but also as a person. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve really experienced things like fear, especially in the context of athletic performance.”
The 25-year-old Hammond started in the first four games of the Preseason Challenge Cup and three of the first six regular season games, but she only played 22 minutes the rest of the year. And when she played, the pressure to avoid mistakes was overwhelming.
Her mind began to wander. Would people take her for a scammer? That she was only in the team because of her background and not because of her talent?
“I was raised to rub dirt in,” she said. “You grind it through. I always thought going to therapy, talking about mental health makes you weak.
“But then I found a really good therapist and I really changed in so many different ways. I can give myself a lot more grace to make mistakes and fail. It won’t be the end of the world.”
That new mentality could be tested this year, one that began with Hammond changing positions, moving from the back line to midfield and appearing in each of Angel City’s first eight games. And although she had her best game of the season in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Kansas City Current, ending a five-game winning streak, the team’s signing could see her relegated to the bench the two-time World Cup winner Julie Ertz.
“That brings competition in midfield. In my opinion, that increases everyone’s performance,” was the diplomatic conclusion of coach Freya Coombe.
Hammond isn’t the first athlete in her family to break new ground. Her uncle Notah Begay IIIone of the first Native Americans to compete on the PGA Tour played golf Tiger Woods at Stanford and against him as a pro.
“He’s done a lot for our community,” Hammond said of Begay, who started a foundation that uses football and golf to bring health and wellness to Native American youth. “It’s very nice to be able to call him and ask for advice, especially because he understands the sporting side and understands what it’s like to mentally feel like imposter syndrome, at some point you just feel different, but ultimately wants to take part in competitions and it’s about his craft.
“That’s the disconnect sometimes that other people don’t always understand. So it’s nice to have that in the house and in the family.”
Like her uncle, Hammond hopes that her influence in her community will not end when her football career ends.
“Exercise is something that … there’s a time limit,” said Hammond, who frequently starts sentences, pauses, and then backtracks to make sure she’s got the right words. “There’s a clock on it. I can now fully devote myself to the sport, but career #2, career #3 could be very different.
“And then I just kick in those doors when I get there.”
The point, she said, is to make an impact no matter where or how it comes. Because it means nothing to be the first Indian to burst through those doors if no one follows you.
⚽ You’ve read the latest episode of On Soccer with Kevin Baxter. The weekly column takes you behind the scenes and sheds light on unique stories. Look around for it every Tuesday morning latimes.com/soccer. Hear Baxter on this week’s episode of the corner of the galaxy podcast.