Local creatives share their multitude of ideas for renaming the Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs would have only been the eighth franchise in NFL history to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy in victory for a consecutive season. Instead, Patrick Mahomes and his teammates saw their Super Bowl LV bid deferred by particularly exceptional play on both sides of the football from Tom Brady and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even with questionable officiating calls and the Bucs enjoying home field advantage as the only NFL franchise in history to both host and play in the big game, the Chiefs were surgically dissected throughout while veterans Brady and his tight end Rob Gronkowski reminded the league of their elite, championship-caliber chemistry.
The Chiefs entered Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, February 7, 2021 with undue pressure. Outside linebackers coach and head coach Andy Reid’s son, Britt, had just been placed on administrative leave after striking two cars with his vehicle while admittedly under the influence on Thursday, February 4. A 5-year-old girl, Ariel Young, sustained critical injuries as a result of the accident. The younger Reid’s contract with the Chiefs then expired and he is no longer employed by the organization. Mahomes and his fiancée, Brittany Matthews, announced her pregnancy with their first child on September 29, 2020. Injuries sidelined a number of key players before Super Bowl LV. But perhaps the biggest factor was a renewed outcry last season for the Chiefs to change the team name. Anyone who follows the NFL isn’t surprised at the league’s abysmal track record in the arenas of racial and social justice. However, 2020 saw far more NFL players and coaches publicly calling for change after numerous police shootings of Black people across the nation reached a fever pitch during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization is on record for banning racially insensitive fan experiences such as the wearing of headdresses and culturally appropriated face paint styles while at Arrowhead Stadium (a name they announced a half-hearted solution for in partnership with GEHA on March 4, 2021). They plan to continue reviewing the Tomahawk Chop and the more recently adopted Drum Deck. The Chiefs have also been meeting with Native American community members since 2014. The Washington Football Team, formerly known as the Redskins, set modern precedent for a team name change after the threat of potential disinvestment from shareholders, investors, and retailers last year. It appears that a name change for Kansas City’s football team is only a matter of time.
We asked a wide variety of local advocates and members of Kansas City’s creative class what they would rename the Chiefs amid continued calls from fans and critics alike.
Gaylene Crouser, Executive Director, Kansas City Indian Center
Native and non-Native community members have been protesting the Chiefs’ name and imagery for decades. Over the years, the team management’s response to these concerns have varied and they often backslide on any changes. The KC Wolf mascot was introduced in 1989 as the successor to a man in full headdress and regalia riding a horse called Warpaint. Warpaint was returned to the field 20 years later, but they no longer have a “Chief” riding him. In 1992, the team announced they would no longer participate in the tomahawk chop, but that only lasted six weeks before they took out a full page ad reinstating it.
It is past time to make a permanent change. They should drop ALL the Native American imagery and rename themselves the Wolves. Or, since they have been using the word Kingdom in their brand for a while now, they could rename themselves the Kings. Whatever name they choose, it can’t be that difficult to come up with a name, brand, and imagery that is not a racist stereotype.
Sage Cornelius, Solo Violinist, Music Producer, and Teacher
I’d like the Kansas City Chiefs’ name to be changed due to the racism it breeds amongst the community. The mascot, the fake “tom toms” being hit with big drum sticks, and the “Tomahawk chop” chant are all byproducts of the harmful environment these practices bring onto Native peoples. They are used as an excuse to falsely perpetuate and mock the modern Native American. While it may not be intended to be rude, these racial stereotypes continue to hold onto outdated racial customs and prevent us from moving forward in respecting our fellow man. It may not be a big deal to people who aren’t of Native descent, but this teaches our children to act in a way that racially perpetuates other races and cultures with a clear conscience, all for the sake of the game.
None of these ritualistic activities honor or properly give respect to the origins of Native culture, rather they insult it. Significant ceremonial headdresses are often worn as Halloween costumes to party and drink. We as Americans have reverence and respect for those who are decorated in the military. Ceremonial headdresses like the war bonnet bear similar recognition and importance when compared to the modern day Medal of Honor. However, falsely wearing any of these military-awarded decorations when one hasn’t sacrificed for their nation is forbidden in the United States of America. There are laws that protect those sacred symbols and dress. Why can’t we be shown the same respect?
I believe this has always been an issue and I am glad it’s now getting its time to shine. Native Americans have always fought to be heard as well as to preserve their traditional way of life. This is another step to help eliminate the toxic environment that Native children have to endure when exposed to the racial ignorance stemming from something as simple as a football game.
Robert Hicks, Jr., Visual Artist
The negative psychological effects (e.g., depression, self-esteem, community worth, future and achievement-related goals, and increased negative feelings of stress, distress, depression, dysphoria, and hostility) of Native American mascots on the Native American community is vast. Resolution #PDX-20-042 was passed on November 13, 2020 by the National Congress of American Indians in Support for the Elimination of Race-Based Native Logos, Mascots, and Names. The Kansas City football team is called upon in the resolution to cease their use of racialized Native branding by eliminating all imagery of, or evocative of, Native culture, traditions, and spirituality from their team franchise by changing their name, including the logo. They can easily become the Wolves, which is their current mascot.
Joshlin Walker, Lover of art, culture and the abstract beauties of life
I have many thoughts on this, most of them aligning with Native American mascots NOT being our mascots at all. I am not too offended by “chiefs” but the problem is all that comes along with it, like the Tomahawk chop and fake headdresses that would equate to someone possessing a Purple Heart. People just need to understand that having love for a group of people means doing what you can to learn about them and listen. Maybe help them? Fake headdresses don’t help shit.
Paul Nyakatura, Midday Announcer and Producer, KCUR 89.3 FM
I really liked what Washington went through with Philip McCauley copyrighting all of their (potential) names and forcing their hand to become “The Washington Football Team.” We care too much about regional identity when it comes to sports. I am guilty of this myself. I think being called “the Kansas City Football Team” for a little while would be beneficial in (de-escalating) the intensity of rabid fandom. It’s just football. It shouldn’t be our identity. But we have a theme of royalty, so anything that’s royal would work for me if it isn’t making a mascot of any group of people. Lastly, for what it’s worth, CHEEEIIIIIIFS.
Cameron Capers, Blogger, Beyond the Sound
I personally believe it’s long overdue for the Kansas City Chiefs to change their name. The same way Washington’s NFL team (was pressured) to change their name, I think the same should apply for Kansas City and any other sports team that reduces Indigenous peoples’ culture and identity to a logo. This country was built on the destruction and marginalization of Indigenous folks, so changing the name is truly the bare minimum the NFL can do. A large majority of Kansas City Chiefs fans have no problem representing the team and its racist traditions, but never speak up for Indigenous communities that are still being destroyed by COVID-19, pipelines, and violent hate crimes.
I also believe the NFL and the Chiefs are not only responsible for getting rid of the name, but should be using their millions of dollars to help the most marginalized people in Missouri’s communities. A week or two before the Super Bowl, two houseless people in Kansas City froze to death because of the snow and extremely cold weather we’ve had over the past month. As a society, we need to ask ourselves why we praise celebrities and millionaires for doing the bare minimum when they have the resources and access to fundamentally change thousands of peoples’ lives.
As far as names, maybe something that goes along the lines of the Royals or the old Kansas City Kings team. Something connected to royalty that doesn’t have anything to do with (objectifying) Black or Brown people.
Rhonda LeValdo, Founder and Member, Not In Our Honor, Acoma Pueblo
I would prefer to change (the team name) to the Monarchs. I think that would right a wrong. I also (like) Snickers’ idea of the Chefs, as in BBQ chefs, since Kansas City is known for that.
James Patterson III, Student and Podcaster
I think the name is fine, however, everything surrounding it is trash. They could keep the name if they committed to eliminating the Tomahawk chop and to taking down the name “Arrowhead” along with partnering with a tribe to get their opinion as well. The name “Chiefs” isn’t a slur but when paired with those things it’s culturally insensitive.
Cameron Birdsall, Co-host, the #AssJamz Podcast
I think the Chiefs should absolutely change their name and I think they should change it to the Kings. If the team wants to remove any Native imagery from the team, which they should, I don’t think they can really achieve that without a name change. It also is a nice nod to the Kansas City Kings (now located in Sacramento). The team colors already fit (red and gold velvet king robes!) and it’s just a cool team name. They can continue using The Kingdom, the nickname that they’ve been using for a while now. “Chiefs Kingdom” isn’t even (technically) correct because it would be a chiefdom (with the current name).
KC Wolf, the team mascot, is already not associated with the team name so I see no reason to change that, especially considering that the wolf is there because of some very rabid fans back in the day. Have him dress up like a king you’ve got it settled. Change Warpaint’s name to something that isn’t problematic and have someone dressed in a crown and cape and ride around if they want. It would be an effective lateral move and would require minimal redesign on the team’s part.
The only thing I haven’t figured out is renaming Arrowhead. I’m not sure if that’s high on the list of things but should probably happen if the team name changes as well. I’m not keen on businesses taking naming rights from stadiums, nor do I really enjoy stadiums named after rich guys, so I don’t know what the best course would be.
The truth is that the fanbase can’t be trusted to stop doing problematic (game rituals) on their own. They had to make a rule about Native headdresses and the fans still do the Chop. Hell, the team still uses the drum! My high school just recently voted to finally change their mascot from the Indians and it’s been a long time coming. Kansas City should be on the right side of this in the future, especially as we gear up to hopefully start a dynasty run with Patrick Mahomes.
Shakespeare already nailed it in Romeo & Juliet – “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What’s really in a name?
Sam Kulikov, Chief Creative Officer and Founder, Social Apex and Kansas City Pioneers
I would change the name from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Kansas City Kings. I feel that the Chiefs’ symbolism represents regality as a chief is generally the head of a tribe. We remove the negative impact of whitewashing Native American culture and it’s also a (nice) alliteration.
Jocelyn Olivia Nixon, Singer and Songwriter, The Creepy Jingles
I wouldn’t mind seeing the name changed to the Kansas City Crowns. This would fit in nicely with the royalty theme of our hometown history with the Monarchs, Kings, and Royals. We can keep the red, white, and gold colors, so the organization and fans can have something to hold onto from the team’s past and carry that legacy as a bridge to the team’s future.
Ben Wendt, Musician and Podcaster
If I were put in charge of rebranding the Kansas City Chiefs I would rename the team the Kansas City Kings. I think this is a win-win selection because it allows the team to keep essentially every major bit of iconography (royalty theme, red and gold, “The Kingdom,” arrows, Arrowhead, KC Wolf, etc.) while moving away from potentially offensive language and iconography appropriated from Native people. The real fun in this name is the opportunity it gifts fans to create new unique traditions! Every tailgate could become a pop-up Ren Fest with fans dressed in Game of Thrones garb drinking goblets full of Tank 7. There could be jousting at halftime, and a local musician could be hired to write a Gregorian chant to replace the problematic Tomahawk Chop. Long live Lord Patrick, and LET’S GO KINGS!
Ada Brumback, Musician
I haven’t thought about this more than “The Chefs” in recent years. I remember them making a commercial in the 90s of a guy painting the end zone with “chefs” and the players making fun of him. I thought it’d be cute and that’s where I stopped. I liked it and it was funny to me. However, I am not sure if that’s tough enough sounding to be a sports team name.
Jhy Coulter, Pop Up Restaurateur
I think they should keep the name in all honesty. The name was created (from) a nickname (of former mayor Harold Bartle). I can see how a chief in Native American culture was depicted as a mascot with a headdress after they named it – that shit isn’t cool – but if those depictions are no longer a thing and are being acknowledged, then I think it can remain as a name. Comparing this scenario to the Redskins made me think of how much of a slur that is and how I think of a chief like I think of a titan or a viking. But if it ultimately had to be changed I’d change the name to the Kansas City Smoke or the Kansas City Wolfpack.
Chico Salvador Sierra, Visual Artist
There was a time that a football team changing its name would be a step in the right direction. It is fully within the capabilities of a multi-million dollar organization to change branding, and to deal with the petty grief of a few fans. I believe fans fully comprehend the racism behind the name but their identities are so wrapped up in this team and game that it’s easier to ignore Indigenous voices, which is wild to me. I think we’ve seen over the last year that trivial steps such as (possibly changing the team name) don’t address the issue of racism within the NFL, but mask it behind clever PR. Let us not forget that the NFL is the same organization that kept a Black American athlete from being employed because he had the courage to protest the killing of other Black Americans by police officers. I do hope that the Chiefs change their name to something that represents the culture of this city, a culture whose majority contributors were people of color.
Jonny Ulasien, Filmmaker
Since Chiefs fans who oppose a name change seem to be so concerned about “preserving tradition,” I think the obvious solution is: the Texans. The team can stay in Kansas City, but they’ll go by their original name. Arrowhead would become Lone Star Stadium and exclusively sell Texas BBQ. Kansas Citians worried about erasing history should be more than happy with this compromise.
Jessica Ayala, Multidisciplinary Artist
The Kansas City Chiefs’ originally got their name from former Kansas City Mayor Bartle. Okay, cool. Makes sense. However, the team then placed an arrowhead on their helmets. Fans (adopted Florida State University’s) infamous tomahawk chop and have dressed themselves in face paint and headdresses for decades.
Last August, the Chiefs announced they would prohibit fans from wearing ceremonial headdresses and face paint that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions at Arrowhead Stadium. Finally, a move in the right direction, ladies and gentlemen. Can I just say I love that we’re having this conversation across the nation? This is what bringing your chair to the table is all about. I’m fond of (the tradition) of naming our team after leaders who have left a historical mark on our city. That’s what we’re all about. We’re the best kept gem. In my artistic opinion, the “Kansas City Monarchs” has a brilliant ring to it. In my activist opinion, the Monarchs have an even richer history. I also often contemplate if we can keep the “chief” and get rid of everything else. Replace the arrowhead, replace the chop, the face paint, the headdresses. All of it! Imagine the possibilities of creating a new energy for our city.
Jon Marzette, Co-host, the #AssJamz Podcast
I know there have been some great suggestions (that refer to) the Midwest and royalty-esque type of names that a lot of Kansas City organizations already have or would hope to have. I’ve heard Kansas City Kings, Kansas City Tornadoes, Kansas City Knights, and the Kansas City Reds. Personally, I think we’ve got a great mascot already in KC Wolf so we could very well just be the Kansas City Wolves. I believe anything we can do to take the license away from people and fans to “play Indian” during a football game is the best choice we could make right now. No chop, no red face, no headdresses, no Native songs or dances. “Chief” itself isn’t a derogatory term but everything surrounding the “culture” of how we use it in Kansas City and as football fans is outdated and needs to be changed. Tech N9ne already gave us two good chants we could just officially adopt and we can call it a day! It’s 2021. let’s move into the future.
Ron Knox, Writer
We all love this team. It has been woven into our lives and into our identity as a city and a community. If you’re my age, your imagination was first captured by Christian Okoye, The Nigerian Nightmare, a mountainous running back who trampled defenders – a bully who was finally on our side. Then came Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith, these ferocious quarterback hunters. We all watched for the inevitable moment, at some point well into the course of the game, when the team would spring its trap and, with a deft play action pass, our middling quarterback would chuck a 50-yard bomb to a wide open receiver streaking down the field. Touchdown. Glory. The culture of the team spread from the field outward, to the stadium’s parking lot, where we all huddled around smoking grills and tossed wobbly passes to each other before the game. We happily added our names to waiting lists for season tickets. Kansas City became, so suddenly, a football town. So we remain.
Our fandom, fostered from youth, is not easily erased. No one wants to undo that. Certainly no one wants the most successful version of this team to go away. But we must be honest with ourselves and our memories. The truth is, for the entirety of the team’s history in Kansas City, its name, imagery and traditions have been and remain racist. It is disrespectful to a people that has suffered unending disrespect and death at the hands of white society. Our football team today embodies that tragic history.
We cannot go back in time and remove from fans the faux-native headdresses and warpaint that transformed our friends and neighbors into racist caricatures – our own shameful legacy tantamount to blackface. We cannot go back to those early days of the Kingdom and stop the team from blaring over the stadium’s speakers the soundtrack to “the tomahawk chop,” a disrespectful bastardization of native culture masquerading as cheer. Our collective civic racism is now canon. There is no going back to change that.
Yes, the team has taken half-measures over last year to remove the most offensive of the team’s imagery. But this is the problem with an ingrained collective culture that included racist elements from its inception. For many fans, doing the chop is simply supporting the team. And it makes sense, too, because everything else we bonded with in childhood – the team’s name, the arrowhead on the side of the helmet, the horse named Warpaint – all remain. If the team won’t change, then the traditions around the team won’t change. But they are offensive – and please don’t take my word for it. Believe the Native American groups and advocates who have said for years that the team and its imagery are, as Native rights advocate Alicia Norris said before this year’s Super Bowl, “dishonorable and disrespectful.”
There is only one solution. The Kansas City Chiefs must change its name. It must change it now, today, before the 2021 season. Only by changing its name and retiring its imagery can we rid ourselves of our most disrespectful traditions – the chop, the drums, all of that. The team can no longer pay lip service to supporting equity in our community while keeping its name and logo.
We can do this. The Kingdom will survive. The day after the team changes its name, Patrick Mahomes, our charming, otherworldly-talented quarterback, will still be under center. Andy Reid will still be our coach. The stadium parking lot will still churn with grill smoke before the games. We’ll still be a football town, home to one of the best teams in the league.
What will remain is a team name as enjoyable and engaging as the team itself, one that everyone in the city can respect and cheer for. We’ll have a team that truly reflects our civic values of inclusion and diversity for every Kansas Citian and every fan. And finally – my lord, finally – we can pass down our fandom from one generation to the next without also imparting a shameful legacy of racism and oppression.
What might we rename the team? There’s an answer in our own sports history. The NBA’s Kings left town a generation ago. There’s now a Kings team in the NBA and the NHL. Why not in football? Renaming our team the Kings feels like the perfect fit – I can already see the “King City” KC logos and slogans adorning the streetcar and the billboards along I-35 as it twists into downtown. We’d start new traditions. We could finally leave the past behind.