The Kansas City Chiefs must look at the history of their name and work to figure out the future of their branding.
In the wake of the Cleveland Indians rebranding and moving away from its past and towards becoming the Cleveland Guardians, the Kansas City Chiefs announced Monday afternoon that they would be moving away from their Warpaint mascot.
Both decisions come in the midst of a national conversation surrounding the use of Native American names and imagery as part of sports team branding. That’s a conversation that should continue to include the Kansas City Chiefs and its current name and traditions.
The Chiefs have been a central figure in this discussion that has been going on for years. From a 2013 document published by the National Congress of American Indians:
"“Often citing a long held myth by non-Native people that “Indian” mascots “honor Native people,” American sports businesses such as the NFL’s Washington “Redsk*ns” and Kansas City “Chiefs,” MLB’s Cleveland “Indians” and Atlanta “Braves,” and the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks, continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were common place.”"
As recently as 2020, multiple petitions were filed calling for the name to be changed. Earlier this year, a group protested the use of the “Chiefs” name and fans doing the “Tomahawk chop” when Kansas City faced off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, according to a report from CBS Sports.
Alicia Norris, a co-founder of Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, had this to say to CBS about the name, tradition, and why she was helping lead the demonstration:
"“The Indigenous people of this land have already had a mass genocide approach with regard to their culture and way of living,” she said. “And when you further dehumanize them and objectify them, it just kind of falls in line with that extinction of who they are.”"
The Kansas City Chiefs have already made multiple policy changes after listening to feedback
According to a 2020 statement from Kansas City Chiefs’ leadership, the organization has been in contact with a group of “American Indian leaders” in hopes of gaining “a better understanding of the issues facing American Indian communities in our region and explore opportunities to both raise awareness of American Indian cultures and celebrate the rich traditions of tribes with a historic connection to the Kansas City area.”
The Kansas City Chiefs said those discussions began in 2014.
Multiple changes have come from those discussions and from listening to the input given by those American Indian Leaders.
Included in the policy changes are the following: Headdresses are banned from Arrowhead Stadium and face paint “styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions will be prohibited,” according to the statement.
The Kansas City Chiefs are also looking into developing a “formal education process.” While these steps are worth noting, it’s important to point out that the conversation around this will continue, as it should.
The conversation around the future of the Kansas City Chiefs’ name and traditions must continue
While some may argue that this name is actually an honor of Native American traditions, the actual history of the name is considerably messier than that. CBS pointed out that the name is not done in honor of Native American tradition.
Instead, it was done to honor a former mayor of Kansas City, Harold Bartle. Bartle helped get the team to Kansas City as it was formerly the Dallas Texans. Bartle’s nickname was “The Chief,” according to CBS.
And so, where do the Kansas City Chiefs go from here?
While it can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, this conversation isn’t going away any time soon. Nor should it. People’s voices deserve to be heard on this matter and it’s clear that many view the Kansas City Chiefs’ name in a very negative light.
As for Schilling, he said in January 2020 that he supports an individual’s right to cheer on the Kansas City Chiefs. But he also demanded the respect he was due and stated that nobody should tell him he shouldn’t be offended.
Telling someone that this name and all of the tradition and imagery attached to the Kansas City Chiefs is an “honor” is the wrong course of action here.
There are some who will argue in favor of keeping the name and all of the imagery for the Kansas City Chiefs. There are some who believe Kansas City’s NFL team should distance itself entirely from its current branding. There will be some who call for some level of compromise to be reached here.
It is clear, however, that this discussion isn’t going away any time soon. Nor should it. The Kansas City Chiefs should work to figure out the best course of action with their name, especially when considering the history of the name and the traditions.
This shouldn’t be seen as a simple attempt at satiating a mob of seemingly offended people.
This is about figuring out what the right thing to do is. And this discussion should continue to include the voices of those who are hurt by the current imagery and name that Kansas City’s NFL team uses.