This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Nike deal promotes Native American wellness, lacrosse

UB staffer, faculty member involved in landmark partnership

Published: July 27, 2006

Reporter Staff Writer

Two former lacrosse stars who are now part of the UB professional staff and faculty recently played instrumental roles in drawing up a landmark partnership between corporate sports giant Nike Inc. and the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse organization.


UB staffer David Bray played a key role in brokering a partnership between Nike and the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse organization.

As part of the agreement, Nike will sponsor programs to promote wellness-and-fitness activities in Native American communities throughout the region, as well as provide lacrosse equipment and sportswear for the Iroquois Nationals, a team consisting only of members from the Six Nations—Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora—of the Iroquois Confederacy.

"It's an honor to work with one of the largest sports suppliers to promote lacrosse," said David Bray, assistant director in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Affirmative Action Administration. A member of the Seneca Nation who played lacrosse for Cornell University in the 1970s, Bray served as a liaison for the agreement through his position on the Iroquois Nationals Board of Directors.

He said Nike is the only Fortune 500 company involved in a partnership with a Native-American organization.

Also instrumental in the drawing up the partnership was Oren Lyons, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of American Studies, Colleges of Arts and Sciences. Lyons, a chief and faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, was an All-American lacrosse goalie for Syracuse during the late 1950s.

"We are proud to have Nike support us at this exciting time in our history," Lyons said in the official news release announcing the agreement on May 4. "The Iroquois Nationals program has had a significant impact on the youth of our confederacy, providing an international showcase for our players and our culture."

Lyons could not be reached by the Reporter for further comment.

The agreement with Nike came about in part through a contact in Indian Health Service, an office of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said Bray. Nike's Native American Business Program works with Indian Health Service and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop wellness-and-fitness initiatives in tribes across North America.

Bray could not comment on the exact nature of these initiatives in terms of the Iroquois Nationals partnership—the details are still developing—but suggested it might involve lacrosse players visiting Native American communities to talk about the importance of wellness. The goal of the partnership is not just to promote lacrosse, but all forms of physical exercise, including low-impact activities such as walking, he said.

Programs such as these are important because poor diet and exercise—as well as such problems as high unemployment, alcoholism and drug use—plague native communities and lead to high rates of obesity and diabetes, said Bray.

Native Americans also are vulnerable to serious foot problems from these conditions because the soles of their feet often are broader than those of non-native peoples, he added, noting that Nike manufactures shoes that alleviate such problems.

Nike will provide the Iroquois Nationals with Nike-brand footwear, equipment and such sports apparel as team uniforms, warm ups and casual sportswear. The team's new uniforms are expected to debut this week during the 2006 World Lacrosse Championships being held in London, Ontario.

The partnership also involves team members in research and development through the testing of sustainable sportswear that contains non-toxic dyes and biodegradable organic cotton, said Bray. Known as "considered sportswear," he said such uniforms take into account the "seventh generation," a Native American expression referring to the belief that actions should be considered in light of their impact on future descendants. The term derives from one of the traditional precepts used to guide the decisions of chiefs in the Iroquois Confederacy.

Bray said the Nike project sets a great example in terms of corporate responsibility. "It's a good, win-win situation," he said.

The partnership between the Iroquois Nationals and Nike is indicative of the overall surge in lacrosse's popularity. "It's the fastest-growing sport," said Bray, noting that an article on the lacrosse explosion was featured in Sports Illustrated in 2005. That report revealed that the number of American youth-league lacrosse players has doubled since 2001 and noted that no other sport boasts such growth rates in high schools nationwide.

A Native American activity with deep cultural roots, "lacrosse"—French missionaries coined the name in the 1600s—developed over time into a popular sport at top-tier schools and military academies. Now it's broken into the mainstream, said Bray.

The Iroquois Nationals experienced its own breakthrough in 1990 when it was admitted into the International Lacrosse Federation (ILF), Bray added. The Iroquois Nationals is the only Native American team sanctioned to compete in any sport internationally.

The team is now ranked in the top five worldwide—an achievement all the greater, Bray points out, since its player pool is the smallest of any of the teams that compete.

The Iroquois Nationals placed fourth in each of the two most recent ILF World Championships—which took place in Baltimore in 1998 and Perth, Australia, in 2002—and featured premier teams from the United States, Canada, Australia, England and Japan. The team also came in third in the 1999 Under-19 World Games in Adelaide, Australia.

In the 2006 World Championships taking place this week, an all-star team of 23 players and five or six alternates is representing the Iroquois Nationals, said Bray.

"It's an honor for our people to participate," he said of the world championships. "It's one of the few times native people can fly their flag with those of the U.S., Canada, England and the other nations of the world."