Two years ago as the Kansas City Chiefs were vying for a second consecutive Super Bowl victory in Tampa, Florida, there was one group outside Raymond James Stadium picketing their appearance.
Native American protesters were calling for the Chiefs to drop their name, logo and their trademark “war chant” where fans make a chopping-hand gesture mimicking the Native American tomahawk. They even hired a plane to fly around the area. Before game day, there were two online petitions and billboards of protest erected in Kansas City.
Now as the Chiefs return to Super Bowl Sunday for the first time in two years in Arizona, protesters will be there again.
Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots is planning to demonstrate outside State Farm Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. They will be joined at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Phoenix by members of Kansas City Native advocacy groups.
Fights against appropriation of tribal cultures and images have been going on for decades — not just with the Chiefs but with multiple teams across different sports. Native Americans say using iconography and words with Native connotations demeans them and perpetuates racist stereotypes.
Supporters have felt more emboldened in the last few years. A lot of teams previously countered that the mascots were meant to show tribes respect. But the racial reckoning and protests of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd compelled some franchises to do some soul-searching. The Cleveland Indians baseball team officially changed to the Guardians in November 2021. They also axed Chief Wahoo, a logo which was a caricature of an Indian American.
It was a year ago this month that the Washington Football Team was anointed the Commanders. That move came after 18 months of pressure to drop the Redskins, which was seen as a racial slur.
The Chiefs have made efforts to address concerns about cultural insensitivities going back a decade but always stop short of altering their name or fan-favorite gestures and chants. In 2013, the team began discussions with the American Indian Community Working Group. This led to invitations for Cheyenne spiritual and ceremonial leaders to take part at some games. It wasn’t until 2020 — when the Washington team first decided to change their name — that the Chiefs issued a ban on fans donning tribal headdresses, war paint and clothing at Arrowhead Stadium.
They also changed the tomahawk “chop” with cheerleaders using a closed fist instead of an open palm. Native American organizations in Kansas City at the time called the changes “laughable.”
The franchise has also made a point to participate in American Indian Heritage Month, which is in November. Most recently, they posted a video with long snapper James Winchester, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and center Creed Humphrey, who is from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
This Super Bowl protest is happening in a state where a quarter of the land belongs to Native Americans. The NFL has been emphasizing its collaborations with Native and Indigenous people based in Arizona.