Native American activists protest the Kansas City Chiefs, call for a name change

Former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson
Former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson
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The Kansas City Chiefs’ triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles at Super Bowl LVII secured the team their third Super Bowl title and second since 2020. But outside Glendale, Arizona’s State Farm Stadium, the Chiefs found critics not among Eagles fans, but Native Americans protesting the team’s name, mascot, and fan traditions. 

In recent years, team names with racist histories have gained increased attention across the sports world. Some teams, as a result, chose to act. The Washington Football Team ditched the racial slur of their old name in favor of the Washington Commanders, while the Cleveland Indians are now the Cleveland Guardians. Similar calls have emerged for the Atlanta Braves to do the same. The Kansas City Chiefs, complete with their beloved Native American drum and popular tomahawk chop war chant, fall into this category.

Native American activists organized around the Super Bowl on Sunday (Feb. 12) as an opportunity to bring awareness to another team name that needs changing. Protests took place across the country — from outside the stadium in Arizona to back in the team’s home of Kansas City. Amanda Blackhorse, a Diné (Navajo) activist who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Washington Football Team, told The Nation that the Chiefs shouldn’t get a pass just because of their winning record. 

“I think people act like there’s nothing wrong because they’ve been winning,” Blackhorse said. “I think that it’s easier to ignore away that there’s a whole controversy behind [the Chiefs’] name — that Natives have been protesting the team for decades and decades.” Blackhorse, who has been an outspoken activist in the movement against offensive Native American mascots and logos for over a decade, was among those protesting outside the stadium on Sunday. 

Native American mascots have been used over the years by companies and brands from Mutual of Omaha to Land O’Lakes. These images have been criticized as caricatures of Native Americans and their culture, leading many companies to remove them from their branding. Colorado even banned the use of Native Americans as mascots last year.

Allie Young, another Diné activist, addressed the concerns of fans who think the controversy over the Chiefs’ name is superficial and that they should take sports more lightly. They believe that a name change is the least that the team can do. 

“It’s not a huge ask to simply change the name,” Young told The Nation. “Those fans will continue to be loyal to that team because that’s where they’re from. We’ve seen that with the Washington Football Team. They changed their name, and their fanbase is still loyal… The NFL is a billion-dollar industry, and they use us — our image — solely for profit.” 

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