Opinion: KC Chiefs should follow Commanders’ lead

Opinions expressed in the Op/Ed section of The Knight Crier are not necessarily reflective of the views of the entire staff of the KC.

As our society is growing to become more aware of social injustices that blind eyes have been turned to in the past, large scale changes have been made, a significant one in the world of sports. It was one of the first steps taken in being more sensitive to the widely incorrect representation of Native Americans in sports.

Earlier this month, the Washington Football Team announced their new name as the “Commanders.” The franchise stated that they wanted to incorporate the military into their name selection, as the team is connected to and located in the nation’s capital. They also decided to remain branding their gold and burgundy uniforms on the field. 

The team is finally and completely dropping any Native American connection they once had. From their previous mascot to their former name, the Commanders have cleared any racist or offensive representations from their franchise.

Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director of the nonprofit organization IllumiNative, has stated that all eyes are currently on the Kansas City Chiefs to follow suit. The rebranding Washington has undergone proves that changes are possible, if an adequate amount of effort is put forth.

While the name “Chief” is not as blatantly vulgar and degrading as Washington’s previous name, it is still somewhat disrespectful as the name of a professional football team. “Chief” is the title bestowed to the head of a Native American tribe, and it is a title that carries honor and great respect among Native Americans. This name dances on the fine line between being acceptable or offensive. However, Kansas City’s name is not necessarily where the root of the problem lies; instead, it is the game traditions that occur.

It is extremely common for Kansas City football fans to paint their faces like Native American warriors might have done or to even go as far as to wear headdresses. Fans also take part in the “Tomahawk Chop,” which entails a rhythmic cheer meant to resemble a Native American war chant, and the swinging motion of the arm that mimics the swinging of a tomahawk, a battle ax used by many indigenous tribes. Painting your face, wearing a headdress, and participating in a chant that Native Americans have done historically and traditionally is where that fine line is crossed into the domain of being terribly offensive. It is not showing your spirit or support for your team; it is appropriating a culture that is not your own.

Unfortunately, the tradition of the Tomahawk Chop is not specific to the NFL’s Chiefs. The Atlanta Braves and the Florida State Seminoles also participate in the disrespectful act. Additionally, many schools, including both colleges and high schools, still have offensive names in relation to Native Americans. This especially includes the name “Indian,” which is problematic, since this term arose from a misidentification that occurred centuries ago. 

The Commanders chose to rebrand entirely. A professional football team has demonstrated that making a change that monumental is possible, if the right people care enough to make it happen. Of course, you cannot force fans to stop participating in these traditions; that would probably be impossible. However, recognizing and changing racist names and practices that make a mockery of Native Americans is certainly possible, and more teams should seek to do just that.