MISSION, Kan. – Kansas City Chiefs fans heading to Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday for a masked and socially distant start to the NFL season will not wear headdresses or face paint in a nationwide push for racial justice following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
The relocation of the reigning Super Bowl champions was a good first step in the Indians, but frustrated some of the 17,000 fans who will be in the stands as the team becomes the first to take the field in front of an audience – albeit a smaller one than usual – during the coronavirus pandemic. Enforcing the new restrictions is also because the team is trying to demand masks, which has proved challenging in some public practices.
NFL teams with Native American mascots are increasingly scrutinized after the Washington team chose to drop Redskins as a nickname after a long and often contentious dialogue with fans and the public. The Chiefs also announced last month that the team was discussing the future of its tomahawk chop celebration amid complaints that it is racist.
Students at the nearby Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas were among those demanding change.
“Using this mascot and having a fan base of mostly white people who wear face paint and headdresses and do the tomahawk chops, and it energizes them and gives them this sense of strength, and then think there’s nothing wrong with to do that is just baffling to me, ”said William Wilkinson, Haskell’s former president of the University Student Government Association.
Wilkinson, Navajo, Cherokee, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, said the team’s nickname should eventually change as well.
“It dehumanizes us and gives us Indians the image of this fierce beast that is hungry to fight when we are not at all like that in real life,” said the 22-year-old businessmen from Madison, Wisconsin.
Ty Rowton, a self-proclaimed superfan who goes to games like the X-Factor, dressed with an arrowhead on his head, beads and a player-signed cape, has made one change to his costume. Instead of make-up, he will stick Duct tape with Bible verses on his face.
He was stopped by security when he wore the suit to a training camp, but said he has since been granted permission to join the ensemble. Still, he finds the team’s changes an overreaction, saying fans like to pose with people wearing headdresses. He also thinks the team should keep the tomahawk as well.
“It’s something that gets us going and that we do as one. It was never intended to be disrespectful, ”he said.
Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, said it is wrong to use “a race of people as a mascot.” Her group has been demanding changes for years and she thinks the momentum is shifting.
“It’s always been swept under the rug, but because the Washington team leaned so hard that they made the change, some of the others are now starting to feel the heat,” she said. “I hope this is the beginning of the end of this acceptable racism.”
Sixty-five-year-old fan Connie Jo Gillespie, a mix of East Woodland Shawnee, Plains Cree and Mississippi Chickasaw, backs the headdress banning, but believes the Chiefs name should stay. She considers herself a hardcore fan and praised the team’s efforts to partner with national organizations that work closely on issues that affect Native Americans.
For example, the Chiefs celebrate American Indian Heritage Month by inviting elders to a competition every year and having them do a ceremonial “ Blessing of the Drum and the Four Directions of Arrowhead Stadium. ”
“The KC Chiefs have the opportunity to culturally educate non-Indians about our heritage, culture and traditions because of their name,” she wrote. “Together with local and regional Native American leaders and tribesmen, they wisely use that opportunity to educate culturally and bring respect to Native American culture and heritage.”