Chiefs' Success Renews Activists' Efforts

Group takes protest against use of Native American imagery to Las Vegas
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 10, 2024 12:05 PM CST
Activists Argue Chiefs Imagery
A billboard calling for a name change and an end to the Kansas City Chiefs "chop" stands along Interstate 70 in Kansas City, Missouri, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

Rhonda LeValdo is exhausted, but she refuses to slow down. For the fourth time in five years, her hometown team and the focus of her decades-long activism against the use of Native American imagery and references in sports is in the Super Bowl. As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for Sunday's game, so does LeValdo. She and dozens of other Indigenous activists are in Las Vegas to protest and demand the team change its name and ditch its logo and rituals they say are offensive, the AP reports. "I really hoped that our kids wouldn't have to deal with this," said LeValdo, who founded and leads a group called Not In Our Honor. "But here we go again."

Her concern for children is founded. Research has shown the use of Native American imagery and stereotypes in sports have negative psychological effects on Native youth and encourage non-Native children to discriminate against them. "There's no other group in this country subjected to this kind of cultural degradation," said Phil Gover, who founded a school dedicated to Native youth in Oklahoma City. "It's demeaning. It tells Native kids that the rest of society, the only thing they ever care to know about you and your culture are these mocking minstrel shows," he said, adding that what non-Native children learn is stereotypes.

Several sports franchises made changes after the 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, per the AP. The Washington NFL team dropped its name, considered a racial slur, after decades of opposition. In 2021, the Cleveland baseball team changed its name from the Indians to the Guardians. Ahead of the 2020 season, the Chiefs barred fans from wearing headdresses or face paint referencing or appropriating Native American culture in Arrowhead Stadium, though some still have. The next year, the Chiefs retired their mascot, a horse named Warpaint that a cheerleader would ride onto the field every time the team scored a touchdown. In the 1960s, a man wearing a headdress rode the horse.

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The team says it has worked to eliminate offensive imagery. "We've done more over the last seven years, I think, than any other team to raise awareness and educate ourselves," Chiefs President Mark Donovan said last year. The Chiefs say the team was named after Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who was nicknamed "The Chief" and helped lure the franchise from Dallas in 1963. The name and arrowhead logo remain, as does the "tomahawk chop," in which fans chant and swing a forearm up and down in a ritual that is not unique to the Chiefs. With Taylor Swift now attending Chiefs games, the activists spotted something encouraging, and they've made a sign for this weekend reading: "Taylor Swift doesn't do the chop. Be like Taylor."

(More Native Americans stories.)

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