Sam Brandford and Johnny Bench Christian Toews

Sam Bradford, former University of Oklahoma quarterback and Johnny Bench, former Cincinnati Reds catcher, were recently inducted into the Ameri- can Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.

Bench, Bradford inducted into American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame

By Christian Toews
June 1, 2023

Johnny Bench (Choctaw) and Sam Bradford (Cherokee) were inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame on April 28, 2023.

The event took place at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, soon to be the permanent home of the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame (AIAHOF).

“We are excited to welcome the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame to First Americans Museum,” said James Pepper Henry (Kaw), FAM Director/CEO.

According to Henry, the ceremony is the first step in a two-year process to relocate the AIAHOF from its current location at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas.

“Although FAM focuses on the 39 Tribal Nations in Oklahoma today, this merger helps us move to a national level to be more reflective of all tribal communities nationwide,” he said.

Johnny Bench was born in Oklahoma City on December 7, 1947, and grew up in Binger, Oklahoma. His childhood dream was to become a major league baseball player.

He was selected and signed in the 1965 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds. After two seasons in the minors, Bench made Cincinnati’s Major League roster for the 1968 season and began one of the most successful careers in baseball history.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in January 1989 with the fourth-highest percentage of total votes cast.

His honors include National League Rookie of the Year (1968), National League Most Valuable Player (1970 & 1972), World Series MVP (1976), and 14-time All-Star, with 10 Gold Gloves. In 1980, Bench set an endurance record by catching 100 or more games for 13 consecutive seasons.

When asked about what this induction means to him as a Choctaw tribal member, Bench said, “Yakoke! I’m on top of the world here. Oh my gosh, I’m honored.”

During his acceptance speech, Bench said that he hoped everyone saw the unity that his induction represented.

“That’s what I hope this brings everybody to. Is we are all one. Thirty-nine tribes make up this great institution, and we are all one,” said Bench. “We will always remain as one.”

David Powless (Oneida), AIAHOF board president and 2008 inductee, said, “It is our hope that by sharing with the world the history of great American Indian athletes past and present, this will encourage Native youth in their journey for success whether it be through sports or other areas of achievement.”

The 2023 inductees join the ranks of prestigious Indigenous athletes, including Olympians Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) and Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox), Sonny Sixkiller (Cherokee), John Levi (Arapaho) and Moses Yellow Horse (Pawnee). The AIAHOF has 110 inductees.

More information on the ceremony