American sports are changing, and the Kansas City Chiefs are on the clock.
Last week, the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced plans to reconsider the team’s name, a decision that will almost certainly lead to a new name by the start of the football season. A few days later, the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball said they would think about a new name too.
“We recognize our unique place in the community,” the baseball team said in a statement, “and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city.”
If both franchises pick new names, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks would be the only remaining major sport franchises using Native American symbols in their promotions and gameday activities. (Some would also add the Golden State Warriors to that list.)
Each of those teams — including the Kansas City Chiefs — must begin a thorough reappraisal of their use of those images and traditions.
Changing the defending Super Bowl champs’ name would be an enormous, controversial undertaking. But the Chiefs — and other community leaders who happily bask in the club’s success — must at least publicly explain in this current moment why keeping the name and associated rituals are so essential to the team’s success.
The Chiefs did not respond to a request for comment.
The concerns of the Native American community, and a much broader audience, can’t be ignored. As other teams take a hard look at ethnic stereotypes and racist caricatures, the Chiefs can’t simply sweep this issue under the rug or hope that a well-timed meeting will calm everyone down. It’s time for a real examination of all of it: the tomahawk chop, the drum, Arrowhead Stadium, Warpaint and the costumes worn by fans at the game.
The National Congress of American Indians calls such iconography intolerant. “Rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples,” the group says.
Many in the Native American community take issue with the nicknames and associated symbols. A February survey found 65% of Native Americans who engage frequently in cultural practices believe the tomahawk chop and associated chant are offensive.
The question isn’t whether all Native Americans find these symbols objectionable. The point is that some Native Americans do. That should be enough for the team and the city to reconsider their fondness for a chant and a costume that have no relation to the game.
How can the NFL pressure the Washington team to change its name while endorsing the chop or the war drum here in Kansas City? The contrast will be too obvious — and will be noticed by everyone in America if the Chiefs’ success continues. (Quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ newly inked 10-year contract extension gives us hope that it will.)
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE KANSAS CITY STAR