Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, left-wing magazine the Nation called to take the Chiefs’ “racist name off the national stage,” while lamenting that Sunday’s NFL championship showdown will see “racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples in these United States… be passively encouraged as an outburst of good old team spirit on the national stage.”
The piece also weighs the feasibility of getting “a whole nation of people to stop being racist all at once on a Sunday.”
The Friday essay, titled “The Fight to Defeat the Name of the Kansas City Chiefs,” begins with Simon Moya-Smith, a journalist, activist, and citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, describing his experience outside of FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, on Thanksgiving Day — “also known as ‘UnThanksgiving’ to Indigenous peoples” — to talk to fans of “the team formerly known as the Washington Redskins.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples in these United States will be passively encouraged as an outburst of good old team spirit on the national stage.https://t.co/HjdOQ235ph
— The Nation (@thenation) February 10, 2023
While standing among the “drunken horde of fans, some painted in red-face, others wearing hippie headbands with fake black braids made of yarn” in the parking lot, Moya-Smith alleges a “massive white man, drunk and bedecked in a faux-feather headdress, came barreling at me, pointed his finger and yelled, ‘I’m a quarter Choctaw! I can wear this fucking thing if I want to!’”
“That’s not how that works!” the author shouted back, at which point the man “stopped and waddled into a crowd of snarling corpulent Coors drinkers, all surrounding a grill and a parapet of coolers.”
According to Moya-Smith, who “wanted to see if these diehard followers of the team ever met a Native in real life, or if their experience with the First Peoples was limited to watching John Wayne get an evil kick out of murdering Indians on Turner Classic Movies,” things then got “uglier and fast.”
Subsequently, as he was “once more patiently discussing how rotten and racist it is to play fast and loose with another culture,” a group of “white men in R-word jerseys began to follow us.”
“Time to go,” the author recalls saying. “They’ve got the scent.”
While the Washington Redskins eventually “relinquished its dictionary-defined racial slur of a name” in 2020, the author laments how “now, on the eve of Super Bowl LVII, we’re all at the same fraught and awful national tailgate celebration, starring (sic) down the barrel of more brutal anti-Indigenous nastiness.”
Moya-Smith then describes the “racism” he fears will be on display during the annual NFL game:
On Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles will play the Kansas City Chiefs for the NFL championship, and again the Chiefs faithful will watch the team’s players trundle out the fake Indian drum and bang it in the end zone as if they’re off to a war party. Fans will don more faux-feather headdresses and paint their faces red as they do more pregame partying outside Arizona’s State Farm Stadium.
“All the while, the racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples in these United States will be passively encouraged as an outburst of good old team spirit on the national stage,” he added.
The author cites Native American activist Amanda Blackhorse, who originally helped force Washington’s NFL team change its name and is now arranging a “coalition of protesters to host a march and demonstration outside the stadium” prior to the Superbowl:
“It’s to make our presence known as Indigenous peoples who have been at the forefront of this fight,” she said about the planned demonstration, adding that the Chief’s Tomahawk chop and chant is a form of “appropriation,” while the ritual beating of the massive drum “mocks Indigenous culture and spiritualities.”
This week, Blackhorse also urged Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as well as pop star Rihanna, who will be performing at the halftime show, to join the cause.
Moya-Smith also cites the American Psychological Association (APA) which, nearly two decades ago, “found that the language and imagery used by Indian-themed teams and their mascots harm the mental health and stability of children.”
Given the “harms” associated with such terminology along with the popularity of such uses, the author wonders just how to “get a whole nation of people to stop being racist all at once on a Sunday.”
“For starters, it’s worth continuing to insist that the idolization of a mega-million-dollar franchise like the Chiefs significantly harms the health and well-being of Natives and our kids,” he writes.
“It’s a lesson that other franchises have come to learn, albeit with a great deal of denial and general teeth-gnashing,” he adds.
He concludes by arguing that “once we reach a critical mass of resistance, we can agree that there’s no place in a just society for racism and those who make excuses for it—especially in the name of their sports god.”
The matter comes as progressives continue to push for more “woke” policies in sports.
In 2020, the Washington Redskins officially retired their 88-year-old team name in favor of the “Commanders.”
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) July 13, 2020
In 2021, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians dumped their more than 100-year-old name to rebrand going forward as the “Cleveland Guardians.”
The baseball team also axed the contentious Chief Wahoo logo that depicted a caricature of a Native American.
Days later, the Chiefs announced it would retire Warpaint, their longtime Indian pony mascot that had roused fans at Arrowhead Stadium since 1955.
Chiefs President Mark Donovan says Warpaint will no longer run at Arrowhead Stadium. #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/4C6EJTX9xq
— Rob Collins (@RCFOX4KC) July 26, 2021
However, talking to the Associated Press on Thursday, Chiefs President Mark Donovan offered no indication there was room for changing the team’s name.
Interestingly, the Chiefs began as the Dallas “Texans” in 1960.
After moving to Kansas City in 1963, the team was renamed in honor of then-Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who was known as “The Chief” due to his large size and work creating a Boy Scouts tribe.
Bartle received permission from the Northern Arapaho Tribe, with the team recently documenting tribal officials confirming it, according to the team’s president.
While the push to drop the name is presumably in order to avoid words linked with Native Americans, the term “chief” — going back to the 14th century — derives from the French term “chef,” which in turn originates from the Latin “caput,” both of which simply refer to a “leader.”
The term was later extended to include Native American tribe leaders.
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.