I have been a fan on the Football Team from Kansas City since I met my wife in 2002. She introduced me to the wonderful world of Priest Holmes, Trent Green, and Tony Gonzalez. She introduced me to winning, as I had only known The Cleveland Browns growing up (for those of you who don’t follow football, the Browns lose more than they win). And while I had certainly been aware of the problematic use of Native Americans as props and mascots with my hometown Cleveland Indians, I mostly ignored “The Chiefs” as a racist construct.
But, there is no easy way to ignore the “Tomahawk Chop.” Its pervasive use at Arrowhead Stadium and around the league as Kansas City played their games around the league made it so you can’t get away from it. And it is truly something strange to watch tens of thousands of fans all imitating a fictional Native American war cry. Each year that fans continue to do it, it gets harder to justify the ongoing insensitivity towards fellow human beings. It seems as though the entire team (and the “Chiefs Kingdom”) is insisting that performing a chant is more important than respecting a fellow American’s culture.
And yet, I continue to be a fan. I like to watch the new crop of amazing football players do things that I never could. From Patrick Mahomes no-look passes to Travis Kelce’s yards after the catch, they are an incredibly entertaining team to watch. So much so that my family made the decision to go to one of their games. It was the last game of the season against the Denver Broncos, a team that hasn’t won against Kansas City since 2015.
From the moment that it was clear to be another Kansas City victory (this fumble and touchdown was it) the chants started. They got louder as the game ended, and they echoed around the stadium as we all walked to our cars and the light rail. It is clear from how widespread this chant is, that it means something to the people doing it. It means victory, sure, but it also means “community.” It is a way to communicate the supremacy of the team and of the fans. And that supremacy is never more felt than when those chanting are white men. They sing the loudest, likely because they have been drinking most heavily. The chant the hardest because they like to reassure one another: “we are still on top.”
The loudest voices, though, are not the ones we should be listening for.
We should listen to those most directly impacted by the use of this racist practice. The National Congress of American Indians says that “the Kansas City Chiefs… continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were common place… and should not be a vehicle of institutionalized racism.” They are saying to fans and to the team itself that a tradition of winning does not require a turn toward white supremacy. It does not require traditions be built and maintained in order to subjugate others.
We can just be a better football team.
And yet, I cannot as a single person, get the entire stadium to stop chanting. But, I can write a blog post. I can amplify the voices of those who need to be heard. And maybe some day soon, we can be louder than those who wish to keep racist war cries at the center of their identity. Maybe one day I can be fully proud to root for the football team from Kansas City.