Telling fans to play nice
Sports | Kansas City Chiefs crack down on spectator conduct
by Sharon Dierberger
Posted 8/31/20, 08:15 pm
Winds of cultural change blew across the Midwest plains last month, right into Missouri’s Arrowhead Stadium. The NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs announced an immediate ban on fans wearing headdresses or Native American–style face paint at games. Previously, the team only discouraged it.
Chiefs executives are reviewing changes to other crowd-revving traditions such as the “Arrowhead Chop”—a gesture that mimics swinging a tomahawk while chanting—and pregame drum beating by designated local celebrities. The organization is working to mitigate criticism it disrespectfully appropriates aspects of Native American culture. Since 2014, it has met with local American Indians to better understand their rituals and beliefs.
“We will continue with many of the traditions that we have introduced over the past six years, including the Blessing of the Four Directions, the Blessing of the Drum, as well as inviting members of tribes with a historic connection to our region to participate in our American Indian Heritage Month Game,” the Chiefs said on Aug. 20.
Just over a month ago, the Washington Football Team dropped the name “Redskins,” which many interpreted as a racial slur, and nixed its logo featuring the profile of an American Indian. Corporate sponsors threatened to abandon the team, whose leaders finally gave in after years of pressure to make the change.
In 2017, the Supreme Court struck down part of a decades-old law banning offensive trademarks, saying it infringed on free speech. The case did not deal directly with sport teams’ nicknames, but the ruling provided protection for name choices even if others considered them disparaging. Most recent professional and college team renaming is due to changing social conventions and corporate pushback, not legal claims.
Not all sports teams with Native American–themed monikers disparage Native Americans. College sports’ Florida State Seminoles and minor league baseball’s Spokane Indians both use their names with permission from local tribes, which have joined forces with the teams as a way to raise awareness of tribal history and culture.
In Kansas City, neither the team nor the stadium name is on the chopping block—yet. KC Wolf, Kansas City’s mascot since 1989, passes muster. Named after a rambunctious group of fans called “The Wolfpack,” it replaced a Native American–garbed man riding a horse named Warpaint. Management wanted something less culturally insensitive that better-engaged children.
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Sharon is a correspondent and reviewer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate. She has served as a university teacher, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, businesswoman, and Division 1 athlete. She resides in Stillwater, Minnesota, with her husband, Bill.