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The Mohegan Tribe's Sports Ownership

The Mohegan Tribe Stands Apart In The World Of Sports Ownership

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Sun forward Alyssa Thomas (25) dribbles the ball during a game against the Las Vegas Aces on August 5, 2018. The Sun won 109-88.
Khoi Ton/Courtesy of The Connecticut Sun
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The Mohegan Tribe's Sports Ownership

Tucked away inside the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. is the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The 10,000 seat venue plays host to some of the biggest music acts in the country and to the WNBA's Connecticut Sun.

Today, the Sun are taking on the Las Vegas Aces in a game with huge playoff implications for both teams.

Like any arena in the country, an American flag hangs above the nosebleed seats. The flag hanging opposite isn't Connecticut's, however. It's the flag of the Mohegan Tribe.

When the tribe bought the Sun 15 years ago, it became the first Native American tribe to own a professional sports franchise. The Tribe now two teams and is still the only Native American tribe with a major stake in pro sports.

"We have an intense pride in the fact that we own and operate two professional sports teams in a world of sports where diversity isn't necessarily appreciated - or where it should be," said Kevin Brown, the chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council. He's talking about the Sun and the New England Black Wolves, a National Lacrosse League team.

In the world of pro sports, where most owners are white men, the Tribe is a minority within a minority.

That fact isn't lost on Amber Cox, the vice president of sports at Mohegan Sun. She said the WNBA has helped foster diversity in ownership.

"Diversity, inclusion, all those things are very much at the core of all of the values of the WNBA and it's something that's certainly reflected with the Mohegan Tribe owning both franchises," Cox said.

It's also reflected in tiny details in the imagery for both the Sun and Black Wolves. At a time when Native American representation in pro sports is mainly as mascots, the Tribe paid careful attention to the franchise's presentations.

The Sun's logo is based on a Mohegan symbol, and when the Tribe bought the New England Black Wolves in 2014, it made sure the team reflected Mohegan values.

Lacrosse originated as a Native American sport, which was something the tribe definitely considered when they were deciding whether or not to purchase the Black Wolves. The Tribe was part of the Wolf Clan of the Delaware Indian Nation, which the team name pays homage to.

"When we had to pick a name for this team, it was literally in the midst of this whole Redskin naming controversy," Brown said. "It was at one of the peaks of that conversation when we had to name our team here and we wanted to make sure that we respected the game, respected the culture and still made sure that we were out front identifying our culture on our jersey."

Buying a pro franchise is a gamble for anyone. But so far, it's paid off for the Tribe.

For starters, women's basketball already had a strong foothold in the state thanks to the success of the UConn Huskies, who've won 11 national championships since 1995.

The Sun was the first WNBA team to make a profit and today averages 64-hundred fans per game. They operate in a league that's seeing a 35 percent increase in viewership on sports TV.

On this night, the game itself was a bit of a one-sided affair. After a tight first quarter, the Connecticut Sun got into a groove, allowing them to easily take down the Las Vegas Aces 109-88.

Sun forward and WNBA All-Star Chiney Ogwumike finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds. She said business aside, diversity in ownership is everything to the players.

"Usually, the demographics of who plays the sport of basketball are different than the ownership. Well, we're actually one and the same. Our league is primarily African-American. And Native Americans for so long, you know, in the history of our country have been considered, you know, at the same class if not even worse," Ogwumike said. "To be a part of Mohegan and an honorary member of the Tribe, they say we're like adopted daughters ... In our big family of the WNBA, we stand out."

Whether or not the Sun will win a championship this year remains to be seen. But no matter how the season ends, the ownership is a testament to how far sports have come - and how far they still have to go.

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