The Kansas City Chiefs are facing calls to end their long-running fan tradition of the tomahawk celebration, which sees those in the stands making a chopping hand motion that mimics the Native American tool, as reported by the Associated Press. The action is typically accompanied by a "war chant."
In the Kansas City area, Native American groups have bought space on billboards to protest the name and celebration. In Tampa, where the team will face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, a protest will be held and a plane has been hired by a coalition of activists to promote the effort. Two online petitions have received thousands of signatures.
While the Chiefs did not receive the same level of criticism as other professional sports teams -- in particular the Washington Football Team who previously used the nickname "Redskins" and MLB's Cleveland Indians and their Chief Wahoo logo -- the franchise has still received criticism for its celebrations and team name, which have been described as derogatory to American Indians. However, the success of the Chiefs combined with the more controversial teams removing their mascots and changing their names in recent years has seen the focus shift to the AFC champions.
The complaints have not gone completely unheard by the Chiefs. Prior to the beginning of the 2020 season, the team banned fans from wearing warpaint and headdresses, while cheerleaders now use a closed fist instead of an open palm when doing the motion, which is intended to signal the banging of a drum and not mimic a tomahawk.
Mark Donovan, the president of the Chiefs, called the decisions a major step forward for the franchise.
"We're going to continue to have those discussions. We're going to continue to make changes going forward, and hopefully changes that do what we hope, which is respect and honor Native American heritage while celebrating the fan experience," he said.
However, Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, considered it absurd that the team would think that marked progress.
"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. And its not like their fans are doing it any different either," she said.