Guest column: Time to drop the Chiefs name in the NFL

Guest Column by Levi Rickert, Native News Online. Chief's old logo. (WGCN/NNO)

Guest Column by Levi Rickert, Native News Online. Chief's old logo. (WGCN/NNO)

Over the years, I have loved it when any NFL team with a Native American mascot gets eliminated early in the playoffs. For me, it’s so much more enjoyable to take in a competitive football game without having to watch fans dressed in turkey-feathered headdresses doing silly chants and trying to “play Indian.”

So, I was disappointed when the Kansas City Chiefs emerged as the American Football Conference champions to play in Super Bowl LVII.

Unlike the racial slur that the Washington NFL team used as its team name for decades, the word “chiefs” is not offensive by itself. What is offensive — and harmful to Native people — are the disgusting fan antics that come with the use of the word.

During their home games, the Kansas City football team has a huge drum that non-Natives bang. In Native American culture, the drum is considered sacred, not an instrument to be used at sporting events to generate loud crowd cheers.

The Kansas City fans began using inappropriate war chants at their home games in the 1980s after stadium “Indian” chanting became popular at Florida Seminoles football games as a way to excite fans.

For years, the franchise also had a Kansas City cheerleader ride a horse named Warpaint around the stadium field in a pre-game performance and after each Chiefs score. The name of the horse is offensive because it perpetuates the myth that Native Americans are violent and ready to go for the “kill.” Fortunately, the team retired this tired trope in 2021 and banned headdresses as part of an effort to eliminate some of the offensive Native imagery at home games, which are played at the still unfortunately named Arrowhead Stadium.

It’s worth noting that the Kansas City franchise adopted the name chief in 1963 at the urging of former Kansas City Mayor Harold Roe Bartle, a non-Native man. Bartle referred to himself as “chief” from his days as a Boy Scout leader where he formed a group called the Tribe of Mic-O-Say as an “honor society” for scouts. The team soon embraced Native American imagery.

For years Native American groups have urged the franchise to drop the Chiefs name to no avail.

On Sunday, hundreds of Native Americans and allies were on hand outside the State Farm Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LVII, to protest the Kansas City football team’s name, mascot and the fan-led tomahawk chop.

Given the game’s global audience and media presence, organizers of the protest felt the Super Bowl will provide a venue to underscore the offensive misappropriation of Native American imagery, as evidenced by hashtags: #notyourchief; #notyourmascot; #changethename; and #stopthechop.

The pushback against teams using Native American imagery is justified because research reveals that images and behavior connected to Native mascots contribute to lower self esteem, increased rates of depression and increased in-school discrimination toward Native youth.

Protest organizers maintain franchises like the Kansas City football team dehumanize Native peoples while encouraging racist behavior in stadiums, at schools and on social media. Kansas City and the NFL continue to allow—and reap major profits from—the blatant racism of the team’s very name, logo and behavior like the tomahawk chop.

While some sports teams and fans maintain the usage of Native American imagery serves to honor the heroic nature of Native people, the fact is that most Native Americans disagree.

In recent years to the delight of Native Americans, the Washington NFL team changed its offensive team name to the Washington Commanders. Both sides of the issue won because Native Americans no longer have to listen to “scalp the Redskins!” and the franchise won because they are now cashing in on fans who purchase new merchandise with the Commandeers name on it.

Beyond the push for the Kansas CIty franchise to drop its name, this past week, Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, noted the Super Bowl LVII Host Committee's "unprecedented" acknowledgement of Arizona's 22 Native American tribes.

This past week, the NFL highlighted Native artists whose art was chosen to be part of the NFL’s collection for Super Bowl LVII memorabilia.

The NFL has designated four local Native American communities as Official Super Bowl Host Committee Partners: Ak-Chin Indian Community, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Gila River Indian Communities, and Tohono O’odham Nation. Representatives of the tribes welcomed both teams as they arrived in Arizona.

These gestures of recognition by the NFL are great, but they do not offset the need for the Kansas City NFL franchise to drop its name. They are in overtime on this account.

Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.

Levi Rickert

Native News Online

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