Cherokee Wins Heisman

Recently a question was raised on this blog about American Indian leadership in athletics. Saturday’s action by the Downtown Athletic Club to award the Heisman Trophy to Sam Bradford may spread this discussion to a broader audience. The Oklahoma University quarterback, being 1/16th Cherokee, is enrolled in the tribe. Last year an ESPN announcer was unintentionally humorous when he stated that Bradford was “certified Cherokee.” The announcer was cut some slack because the enrollment process is very complicated.

Sam’s great-great-grandmother, Susie Walkingstick, was full-blood Cherokee. His father, former OU lineman Kent Bradford, is 1/8th blood Cherokee. It is appropriate that this Heisman winner plays for Oklahoma University because Oklahoma has the largest American Indian population of any state. Fellow Oklahoman Sac & Fox Jim Thorpe did not win the Heisman because that award wasn’t initiated until 1935 when the University of Chicago’s Jay Berwanger became the first recipient of the trophy with the famous pose. Jim Plunkett, being Mexican-American, was probably the first person with significant quantities of Indian blood to win the Heisman when he was named in 1970. Since then, it hasn’t been close. Not even fellow Cherokee Sonny Sixkiller who played quarterback for the Washington Huskies two decades later contended seriously.

A USA Today cover story http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/big12/2008-12-09-bradford-cover_N.htm discusses the impact Bradford’s candidacy has already had on Indian children. Like Sixkiller, Bradford did not live on a reservation and grew up with little exposure to his Cherokee heritage. Anadarko, OK was home for College Football Hall of Famer Albert Exendine, star end at Carlisle. Anadarko is also the town in which Exendine, in the summer of 1911, encouraged Jim Thorpe to return to Carlisle. Alongside this history exists Riverside Indian School, a place where one would expect football to thrive. But that hasn’t been the case. Riverside dropped football a few years ago but, due to Bradford’s inspiration, fielded a team this year. Forty boys came out for the team – not bad for a school that has only 400 students who range in age from 4th grade to high school. The Braves only won one game but this was their inaugural season. The important question is: Are they running the single-wing?

USA Today photo of Sam Bradford with his Heisman Trophy

USA Today photo of Sam Bradford with his Heisman Trophy

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