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Native American group plans Super Bowl protest of Kansas City Chiefs

The St. Petersburg-based Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality says the name trivializes American Indian culture.
A Kansas City Chiefs fan shows his colors outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens before Super Bowl 54 last February. The Chiefs have since banned headdresses and Native American-style face paint at their home field, Arrowhead Stadium, and the NFL says the ban will also be in effect at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl 55 on Sunday.
A Kansas City Chiefs fan shows his colors outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens before Super Bowl 54 last February. The Chiefs have since banned headdresses and Native American-style face paint at their home field, Arrowhead Stadium, and the NFL says the ban will also be in effect at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl 55 on Sunday. [ SETH WENIG | AP ]
Published Feb. 2
Updated Feb. 6

TAMPA — The Kansas City Chiefs will arrive in Tampa this week as defending Super Bowl champs and the bearers of a divisive name.

Ahead of kickoff for Super Bowl 55 on Sunday, a local group plans to stage a protest at Raymond James Stadium to urge the team to ditch the “Chiefs” moniker out of respect for Native American people.

The St. Petersburg-based Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, or FIREE, wants to call attention to how hurtful the team’s name is to indigenous people who see their culture and spirituality appropriated and caricatured by fans who wear headdresses and war paint and swing their arms in an Arrowhead Chop, said group co-founder Alicia Norris.

“When you make indigenous people into a mascot, it’s extremely dehumanizing, especially for children,” Norris said. “This is coming to our backyard, so we’re going to say something about it.”

The group plans to gather at the stadium at 4 p.m. and demonstrate on the west side of Dale Mabry Highway at the intersection of Tampa Bay Boulevard. More information is available on a Facebook page the group created for the event, Norris said.

“It is time for this practice to stop,” the page says. “We ask all human beings to recognize that American Indians are Human Beings not sports team mascots for America’s fun and games.”

Luke Shanno, corporate communications for the Kansas City Chiefs, confirmed receipt of an email from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment for this story but he did not provide one.

Fans hoping to get into Raymond James Stadium wearing ceremonial headdresses and Native American-style face paint will have to make other plans, a spokesman for the National Football League said. The Kansas City Chiefs banned those practices last year at the team’s Arrowhead Stadium and they’ll be prohibited at Raymond James Stadium, too.

“For Super Bowl Sunday at the stadium, we are employing the same policies that exist at Arrowhead Stadium for these items,” Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications for the league, said in an email to the Times.

The ban on the war paint and headdresses is progress, but the Chiefs name needs to be relegated to the history books, too, Norris said.

“People associate that name with the tomahawk chop, with the war paint, with the headdresses,” she said. “It all goes together.”

According to the Chiefs’ media guide, the team was named in honor of former Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who was known by the nickname “Chief” and helped persuade Lamar Hunt to move his Dallas Texans to Kansas City.

But the team put an arrowhead on its helmet and for decades, its fans have donned headdresses, painted their faces in the style of Native American war paint and used the “Arrowhead Chop,” a tomahawk-like arm motion.

Last August, amid renewed calls for racial justice in America following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Chiefs announced they would prohibit fans from wearing ceremonial headdresses and Native American-style face paint at Arrowhead Stadium.

The team said in a statement at the time that although they had discouraged fans from wearing headdresses for several years, the organization decided after discussions with Native American leaders to ban them altogether.

The statement said face painting would still be allowed for all fans but any face paint that is “styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions” is prohibited. The team also said it was working on a “thorough review process” of the Arrowhead Chop.

The Chiefs announcement in August banning face paint and headdresses came a little more than a month after after Washington’s football team, under pressure from corporate sponsors, announced it would drop its logo and the Redskins name. The team has not yet announced its new name and for now is going by the moniker “Washington Football Team.”

In December, the Cleveland Indians baseball team announced it would change its name but has not announced a new one. The team dropped its Chief Wahoo mascot in 2019.

Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves have resisted calls to change their name, saying they view it as a tribute to Native Americans rather than a slur.

The National Congress of American Indians calls such iconography intolerant.

“Rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples,” the group says.

As teams have made changes, some observers wondered why the Florida State University’s Seminoles have not taken similar action. When the NCAA reviewed its guidelines on Native American nicknames in 2005, the Seminoles’ tribal council unanimously approved a resolution supporting FSU’s use of the name, and the tribe collaborates with the university and its athletic department.

Norris said Chiefs fans who are thinking about donning headdresses and wearing war paint in the stadium parking lot or at parties elsewhere on Sunday should consider how their actions affect native people.

“Please listen to the indigenous voices who are telling you that it is harmful to our children and degrading and disrespectful to our culture and spirituality,” she said. “Do the right thing.”

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