August 04, 2009

Investing in Native athletes

Opening the doors wide for Native athletes

Legal team starts advocacy, wants to level the playing field for Olympic and professional hopefuls

By Richard Walker
For any athlete in a rural area, the biggest obstacle to success can be exposure. That fact applies to American Indians on reservations.

“The door has never been opened wide enough for Indian athletes,” said Tex Hall, former chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes and the National Congress of American Indians. “Indians can’t get to the pros competing in places like Bismarck, N.D.; unless our youth have financial backing, they won’t make it.”

A new initiative intends to change that.

Tribal representatives from Arizona, California, North Dakota and Washington state met in Seattle May 15 for the first Tribal Sports Law & Business Conference. The conference was organized by Gabe Galanda, Round Valley, and Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, of the Seattle-based law firm Williams Kastner; a second conference is planned for spring 2010 in Phoenix.

Their goal: To encourage Native governments to invest in sports and exposure for their athletes; and to create what Juarez calls a “portal” for young athletes, where they can get the support they need in advancing sports careers.
Native entrepreneurs and governments are establishing a presence in sports. The Tachi Yokut Tribe owns an Arena Football League team. The Mohegan Tribe owns the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. Curt Styres, Mohawk, owns the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League.

The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation owns a boxing promotion company and has been a major sponsor of the San Diego Padres since 1995. The Oneida Indian Nation of New York’s Atunyote Golf Club has hosted a PGA tournament since 2007. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and the Puyallup Tribe have hosted HBO and Showtime boxing. The Seminole Tribe promoted the Seminole Classic Bull Riding Championships on ESPN.

Still, Native athletes with dreams of professional careers have trouble getting mainstream attention that can lead to college scholarships, being scouted, and the advocacy that’s needed along the way.
Comment:  For more on supporting athletes, see Football Camp on Navajo Rez, Native Golfers at Santa Ana, and Celebrating Native Athletes.

Below:  "Proceeds from the Tribal Sports Law & Business Conference were presented to the Native American Basketball Invitational in honor of Tex Hall, a member of the NABI board of directors. From left, Debora Juarez and Gabe Galanda of Williams Kastner; Hall; and GinaMarie Scarpa and Gyasi Ross of NABI." (Photo courtesy Williams Kastner)

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