Opinion: Rudy and Hoosiers screenwriter heads groundbreaking project about Indigenous football stars

You may not know the name Ray Halbritter, but you should, because what he's doing now is one of the most important and groundbreaking things in sports and beyond.

What Halbritter's done centers around a book, positive representation of Indigenous people, the screenwriter for two of the most beloved sports movies of all time, and a group of Indigenous football stars that once dominated the sport.

Halbritter is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Nation Representative of the Oneida Indian Nation. For almost a decade, he was one of the leading voices in fighting Indigenous people being used as sports mascots. His stubborn efforts, along with others, is a big reason why the Washington Football Team stopped using its racist nickname.

Now, Halbritter is attacking a different challenge, and its one that could have an even bigger impact. His production company, Standing Arrow Productions, is bringing to life journalist Sally Jenkins' book The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation.

It wasn't Harvard or Yale that dominated college football in the early 1900s (college football players then were essentially pros) it was Carlisle. The teams were led by two iconic football figures: Coach Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe, perhaps the best all-around athlete in the history of American sports.

Like many Indigenous people, players at Carlisle faced extensive brutality and systemic racism. Jenkins' book shows the courage of the athletes on and off the field, and makes the point that America has contributions from all of its peoples, even if those contributions are sometimes minimized or forgotten.

Where Halbritter's story takes another interesting twist is the screenwriter for the project, according to the production company, is Angelo Pizzo, the screenwriter and producer of the movies Hoosiers and Rudy.

It can't be overstated how important this moment is. The lack of positive Indigenous on-screen presence is a problem. 

"In fact, Native peoples’ share of screen (presence in top television programming) stands at just 0.27%—a figure about one-sixth the presence of Native Americans in the U.S. population today," said Stacie de Armas, the senior vice president of diverse insights and initiatives at Nielsen, to USA TODAY Sports. "It’s time that Native people’s authentic stories are heard and the community is recognized for their immense contributions."

Thus it's not solely that the Indigenous population has been underrepresented in film and television, as well as caricatured, it's also that they still are.

What Halbritter has done with this production company, and this project, is take his fight against racist mascot stereotypes and broadened it to a larger battle where he can have even more impact. 

“Representation on the movie screen and throughout popular culture is tremendously important for marginalized communities, and especially important for young people to see images of themselves on screen,” Halbritter said in a statement. “That’s the biggest single factor in my decision to launch Standing Arrow Productions. Growing up, I never saw anyone on screen who looked like me or reflected my life experience. The goal of Standing Arrow Productions is to make entertaining movies that reveal the complexity, challenges and beauty of the Native experience to global audiences."

And that is what makes this moment so important.

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