Heather Hollingsworth, Associated Press, February 3, 2021
Pressure is mounting for the Super Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs to abandon a popular tradition in which fans break into a “war chant” while making a chopping hand motion designed to mimic the Native American tomahawk.
Local groups have long argued that the team’s chop tradition and even its name itself are derogatory to American Indians, yet the national attention focused for years on the Washington football team’s use of the name Redskins and the cartoonish Chief Wahoo logo, long the emblem for the Cleveland Indians baseball team. But in the past year, those teams have decided to ditch their Native American-themed monikers, and the defending champion Chiefs are generating more attention due to a second consecutive appearance on the sport’s biggest stage.
A coalition of Native American groups has put up billboards in the Kansas City area to protest the tomahawk chop and Chiefs’ name. A protest is planned outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, site of Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the coalition has hired a plane to fly around the area. A few thousand people have signed onto two online petitions, one of them started by a fourth-grader.
The Chiefs made some changes in the fall, barring headdresses and war paint and making a subtle alteration to the chop, with cheerleaders using a closed fist instead of an open palm to signal the beating of a drum.
But Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, found the tweak to be laughable.
“They think that that somehow helps, and they are still playing that ridiculous Hollywood Indian song, which is such a stereotypical Indian song from like old Cowboy movies or something. I don’t know how they feel that that made any difference at all,” she said. “And it’s not like their fans are doing it any different either.”
Chiefs president Mark Donovan said barring face paint and headdresses from its stadium was a “big step.”
But the changes aren’t nearly enough for the St. Petersburg-based Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, which plans to protest near the stadium Sunday ahead of the kickoff, singing and holding signs.
Group co-founder Alicia Norris described the chop as “extremely disrespectful,” saying it “conjures up images of Native Americans, indigenous people as savages.”
Fans of the Chiefs long ago adopted the chanting and arm movement symbolizing the brandishing of a tomahawk that began at Florida State University in the 1980s.