The absence of Native Americans in professional sports alludes to bigger issues

On the rare occasion that Native American history is incorporated into the classroom, the plight of the marginalized group is often characterized as something of the distant past. But one look at society shows that this is far from true. Whether it’s white festival attendees wearing headscarves, football fans protesting the Redskins name-change, or President Trump calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” as an insult, it’s clear that racism towards indigenous people is rampant. 

The exclusion of Native Americans from American life has led to gross under-representation of indigenous athletes in professional sports. Lyle Thompson, a Major and National League lacrosse player and member of the Onondaga Nation in upstate New York, has become an advocate for the participation of native players and communities in American sports. 

Thompson is a member of the Iroquois tribe and lacrosse was an integral part of his upbringing. According to, lacrosse originated in North America in the 17th century and the Iroquois view the sport as a gift from their creator, who they honor every time they play. Many consider Thompson, who has a sponsorship with Nike, as one of the greatest players of all time. While many children find an outlet in sports on their reservations, very few reach his level of commercial success. 

With the popularity of lacrosse at a record high and speculation that the sport will return for the 2028 Summer Olympics, Thompson wants to see his nation represented. The Federation of International Lacrosse recognizes the Iroquois as a national team, but, as of now, the National Olympic Committee doesn’t. This is because the tribe doesn’t meet the qualification criteria for receiving UN recognition. 

The solution is simple: give the Iroquois the opportunity to qualify for the 2028 Olympics, even if that means making an exception to the rules. As a sovereign nation, the tribe should be treated as its own country with the ability to compete collectively at the Olympic level. This should be true for all sports, but especially for lacrosse, since it is such a large part of Native American heritage. 

Throughout history and today, the actions of the U.S. government towards Native Americans has been inexcusable. After decades of massacring natives, stealing their land, forcing them onto undesirable settlements with limited resources, and repeatedly appropriating their culture without apologizing, the least that American leaders can do is support the Iroquois in their fight to participate in Olympic lacrosse. 

Some question why the Iroquois should have their own team instead of just representing the U.S. The reason is that they aren’t American citizens and shouldn’t be asked to represent a nation that has done nothing but create and exacerbate their problems. It’s unjust to restrict people with a sport ingrained in their culture from playing it competitively. 

Looking past lacrosse, American sports leagues owe it to Native Americans to become allies with their tribes. This could mean helping them organize leagues or annual tournaments, investing in youth sports on reservations, or instituting outreach programs that target indigenous athletes. While nothing can compensate for the hardships Native Americans have endured on behalf of the U.S., sports is the perfect medium for the nation to establish an open dialogue with natives and offer its support. 

For so many WHS students, athletics are a major part of their identity. For Native Americans, the same is true. There are many hardships that come with living on a reservation, such as inadequate living conditions and difficult familial relationships. For some natives, sports are their only source of hope. Everyone deserves to indulge in their source of hope, even if that means re-evaluating the role of Native Americans in American and international sports.