As they’ve faced mounting scrutiny, the Chiefs have made an effort to evolve such practices in recent years. “Over the course of the club’s 60-plus-year history, the Chiefs organization has worked to eliminate this offensive imagery and other forms of cultural appropriation in their promotional materials and game-day presentation,” reads a statement on the team’s official website. In 2014, for instance, the Chiefs engaged in a dialogue with the American Indian Community Working Group, made up of “leaders from a diverse group of American Indian communities in Kansas City and the surrounding area.” Together they devised a set of guidelines for the Chiefs’ athletes and fans to follow during game-day events at Arrowhead Stadium. For instance, while a ceremonial blessing of the drum kicks off all home games, costume headdresses have been banned in the stands.
But are these changes enough? For many Indigenous people, the answer is no. In 2005 a report from the American Psychological Association found that “mascots based on stereotypes had a harmful effect on the social identity development and self-esteem of young [Native American] people.” A name like the Chiefs, it’s been argued, bears similar ill effects. “[The name] perpetuates the national feeling that native Americans are historical figures rather than living communities with real people who exist now and matter,” one Instagram user recently asserted. “Not imaginary, not fictional, and not dead.”
It’s a case that feels especially persuasive in 2024: Just last month President Joe Biden signed an executive order that called for the Interior Department to make final revisions to the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which now requires museums and federal agencies to get consent from tribes before displaying any human remains and cultural artifacts from Indigenous communities. (It’s led New York’s American Museum of Natural History to close two prominent exhibition galleries.) If the arts sector can make such changes, endeavoring to cease treating Indigenous Americans as figures from a distant past, surely a sports team can too.
That said, the actual process of revising a major sports team’s name is complicated—and expensive: It can take anywhere from 18 months to two years, per The Atlantic, and cost of millions of dollars. (Beyond replacing the team’s uniforms and equipment, there would also be the matter of updating logos, merchandise, banners, and other marketing materials.)
Obviously, it’s a big decision to make, but at this point, it’s also an undeniably necessary one. Many within the Indigenous community remain hopeful that the Chiefs will eventually give in, especially as the coming Super Bowl increases their visibility. Besides, fans already know what the team could be called instead. As one X user recently quipped, “The Kansas City Chiefs should change their racist name to the Kansas City Swifts. Everyone would be happy.”
This story was originally published in Vogue.