Kevin Abourezk, ICT, February 7, 2024
Come game day Fridays, Kansas City turns red. Law firm office workers, elementary school students, elected leaders in city hall – everyone on both sides of the city whose borders reach into Kansas and Missouri – don NFL gear as a show of support for the hometown team.
Everyone, that is, except Gaylene Crouser.
At least that’s how it feels for the director of the Kansas City Indian Center.
“It permeates everything,” she said. “You can’t turn on the TV or the radio without hearing that stereotypical song they play to get people to do the chop.”
Come Sunday, Feb. 11 Crouser will continue her tradition of not wearing Kansas City football gear on game day when she joins protestors outside Allegiant Stadium on the Las Vegas strip. That’s where the team will be playing the San Francisco 49ers during the 58th NFL Super Bowl.
For the fourth time in the past five years, Native demonstrators and their allies will converge outside the stadium where the NFL championship game is being played to protest the Kansas City team’s name.
Rhonda LeValdo, founder of Not In Our Honor, an organization opposed to the Kansas City team’s name and associated imagery, said she and other protesters will hold up signs and chant to express their disdain for the team’s continued tolerance of racist imagery and behavior.
She said protesters also will express opposition to the San Francisco team’s name. The 49ers name refers to the gold miners who flooded California the year after gold was discovered in 1848. The ensuing gold rush brought as many as 300,000 settlers to the state and led to a massive decline of Indigenous people from California as a result of disease, relocation and massacres. From a population of 150,000 before the gold rush, just 31,000 Native people remained in the state by 1870, according to the International Indian Treaty Council.
LeValdo said it’s wrong to celebrate an event that heralded the deaths of thousands of Native people, and she said the competition between two teams with offensive names only fuels her opposition to the Kansas City team’s name.
“I was calling it the Genocide Bowl,” she said. “It’s so weird how Americans celebrate their teams with this. They’re not understanding the history or historical aspects that we as Natives understand.”
Crouser said while she is opposed to the Kansas City team’s name, she is more frustrated by the team’s tolerance of offensive behavior by fans during games. She said she particularly hates “the chop” – the closed fist gesture that fans perform to the sound of rhythmic drumming that elicits old stereotypes of Native Americans – as well as the Native headdresses that fans still wear, despite the team banning them from Arrowhead Stadium.
LeValdo, who founded Not In Our Honor in 2005, said tolerance of offensive team names and mascots encourages the mistreatment of Native people everywhere. She said Native student athletes in her own community of Lawrence, Kansas face discrimination by opposing players who heckle them by performing the chop.
“It’s affecting our kids in different ways every day,” she said.