Story at a glance
- Native American activists have campaigned against the usage of “Chiefs” as the Kansas City football team mascot for years.
- Earlier in 2020, the Washington Redskins name was dropped following similar outcry.
Ahead of Sunday’s 2021 NFL Super Bowl game, the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While NFL fans are awaiting the finale to a challenging year for professional football, Native American activists are aiming to bring attention to what they say is an inappropriate use of “Chiefs” as the football team’s mascot, when it has a strong legacy in Native American culture.
The NFL has had to reckon with controversial imagery recently. The former Washington Redskins converted their name to the Washington Football Team in July after years of activists calling the name offensive to indigenous peoples.
During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, the NFL took steps to declare themselves aligned with protesters, writing “End Racism” and “It Takes All Of Us” in their stadium endzones.
But this symbolic gesture is still not enough for many groups.
“As teams from Tampa Bay and Kansas City converge at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV on February 7, 2021, the National Football League (NFL) must align with their commitment to advance social justice and 'end racism' by banning racist behavior from fans including attire and face paint that demean Native people,” the First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) said in a statement.
FPW is referring to the NFL’s recent commitments to emphasize social justice among their professional teams and support initiatives surrounding police and criminal justice reforms in solidarity with their Black athletes.
“We further encourage the NFL, the Kansas City Team and league members to immediately end the use of all racist and culturally appropriative names and logos, and to engage in a process of reconciliation with Native leaders, tribes and organizations to address the harms caused by appropriation of Native culture in sports,” the group added.
In August, the Kansas City Chiefs organization forbade fans from donning traditional Native American dress to games, including headdresses, face paint and other Native American clothing.
The change resulted from collaborating with Native American advocacy organizations like the American Indian Community Working Group.
“We are grateful for the meaningful conversations we have had with all of these American Indian leaders,” officials from the Kansas City Chiefs said in a statement. “It is important that we continue the dialogue on these significant topics, and we look forward to continuing to work together in the future.”
Still, the team name remains unchanged.
Academic research notes that the appropriation of Native American cultural symbols and imagery can have a tangible effect on modern indigenous groups. A March 2020 study revealed that 65 percent of Native Americans respondents were offended by using Native American imagery as mascots for franchises.
Other advocacy organizations, such as IllumiNative, expressed the misalignment of the NFL’s mission to dismantle structural racism while keeping the Chief name and mascot.
“For the second year in a row, as Kansas City competes this year, Native Americans will be caricatured and mocked on national television,” Crystal Echo Hawk, the founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative, said. “Racist imagery that upheld white supremacist views of people of color were eliminated - including Native mascots in Washington, DC and Cleveland. The NFL cannot fulfil its goal of addressing racism within the sport until all Native mascots in professional sports are eliminated.”