The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, and yes, we did watch most of it (online, so as to not stomach FOX’s disingenuous political posturing). It was an excellent game between two great teams, and it is a shame one of them had to lose.
That being said, the Kansas City Chiefs are on top of the football world right now, and and it would be a good time to set an example for the rest of America. No, we could care less if the team visits the White House or not … this is about Native people across North America and in other places around the world, too, really.
According to a registered Cherokee Nation individual we know, “A lot of Indigenous people do not like the name of the Chiefs or the fact that they do the tomahawk chop.” This is no denying this reality in modern sports.
While a team name may seem innocuous on its own (it’s not, really, as we reference below), the associated behavior and choices of the fans exemplify the problem: Indigenous people are not “mascots”—and their cultural traditions do not exist for sports fans to disrespectfully appropriate.
The Atlanta Braves finally have done the right thing in banning the chant from its fans. First popularized during the Braves’ 1991 playoff run, it had become a thing unto itself. The Florida State Seminoles also have used the chant since the 1980s at events.
The MLB team made the decision after St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, also a member of the Cherokee Nation, called the chop disrespectful during the 2019 National League Division Series between the two teams: Helsley said the chop misrepresented Native Americans and depicted his ancestors “in this kind of caveman-type people way.”
The Chiefs need to follow the Braves’ lead here and move forward, progressing more toward a better cultural respect for Native people as locals have been asking for at least a few years now. The players themselves—and the front-office management and ownership—need to lead the way by example for the fans, especially in this moment of triumph when their “street cred” is at an all-time high.
As for the team name, this Denver Post piece explains the issues there: The nickname is not as innocent as it may seem. Also, as the article notes,
Games at Arrowhead Stadium also continue to take on the vibe of a less politically correct time. Some fans wear headdresses or face paint. A “war drum” is banged before the game. A horse named “Warpaint” circles the field after scores as fans chant and mimic the tomahawk chop.
“It’s something that brings the fans together,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said Monday during Media Night at the Super Bowl, “but I can definitely see how there would be a misunderstanding.”
Many actions can bring a community and the fans together, and none of them have to be offensive. The Post writing makes it clear that the Chiefs organization itself is in constant and respectful communication with Native groups and leaders to address these concerns, yet now is the time to make the biggest change.
Retire the chant; change the team name. With its first Super Bowl title in 50 years now secured, the Kansas City football team can close a chapter on its past with dignity and aplomb—and open a new era of progress in the community while starting out on top with that change.
We’re not here to tell the team what to do or how to change the name, but there is no better time than the present to make a positive statement about what the NFL, the Kansas City community, and the entire state of Missouri stand for in 2020.
We hope the Hunt family—owners of the franchise since its inception as the Dallas Texans in 1960—is listening and will do the right thing while the time is right.