By Brett Larson, September 7, 2015
Matt Roberson, the Executive Director of the Department of Athletic Regulation, has been impressed with the Mille Lacs Reservation and its boxing program since he first visited several years ago. When former Executive Director Jim Erickson resigned, Matt wanted to be a part of it.
“I had been up here a couple times, and I really fell in love with the vision and commitment they have,” said Matt. “Not just the Department, but every aspect of the reservation.”
Matt hails from Andarko, Oklahoma, and is a member of the Keechi Band of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.
He’s been interested in boxing and other combative sports since he was a kid, when he watched Mike Tyson’s title bouts and George Foreman’s comeback. Matt was a wrestler in high school, which gave him an interest in mixed martial arts (MMA). “It’s always been a passion so when our tribe decided to form a commission instead of compacting with the state, I jumped at the chance,” said Matt.
Matt ran the Wichita Tribes Sports Commission for five years, dealing primarily with MMA. “Boxing’s not nearly as big, which is one of the reasons I was interested in coming here,” he said. “Minnesota is like the Mecca of boxing. We’ve seen a decline nationwide, but Minnesota has stayed at the top and consistently maintained great talent.”
The Department of Athletic Regulation is governed by a commission whose current members are Wallace St. John (Chair), Darrell Shingobe (Vice Chair), Donald Graves (Secretary), Billy Jo Boyd and Percy Benjamin. Darrell has known Matt for years and is thrilled to have him on board. “I’m proud that we got this guy,” said Darrell. “We work well together, and we’re all busting our butts.”
The Department licenses combatants, trainers, managers, matchmakers, ringside physicians and officials.
“The Athletic Commission’s role is to regulate and sanction combative sports,” said Matt. “What we want to do is look out for safety of the casino and Band members, as well as the fighters, to make sure there are fair and ethical contracts.”
The Department is a member of the national Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). Matt is very familiar with the ABC, having served as Vice Chair of its Tribal Advisory Committee.
The Department also helps other tribes regulate events or set up their own athletic commissions.
“Only about 20 tribes have their own athletic commissions,” said Matt. “A lot of tribes have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous promoters. We want to educate them and show them their options.”
Matt is committed to helping tribes regulate their own affairs, but he’s also excited about the impact of sports on young people. “Recreational leagues for young adults help lower substance abuse rates, lower diabetes rates, and decrease heart disease,” Matt said. “And having positive role models helps younger kids who are growing up and watching them.”
Matt has been impressed by the Mille Lacs Band, and he’s happy to be working for the tribe. “I have just been absolutely blown away by the level of cultural education and social services that the Mille Lacs Band provides its members,” he said.
“It’s outstanding. A lot of people are probably used to it, but coming from a tribe without as many resources, it’s impressive — the language programs, community meetings, the outreach. Where I come from, six tribes together don’t have those resources and capabilities.”
The Department of Athletic Regulation most sponsored the Legacy Fighting Championships July 17 in Hinckley. The event was nationally televised on AXS TV. On August 28, a boxing event was held in Hinckley with a headline bout between Phil Williams and Al Sands.