While Johnson led the prelude to last Sunday’s nationally-televised contest between the Chiefs and Green Bay, fans waved their arms back and forth in unison, banding together for the Tomahawk Chop.
It was a bad look for Kansas City — and an affront to Native Americans.
For years, the Chiefs organization has worked with Native American groups to address concerns about the negative stereotypes that have been on display at our home games. The team no longer promotes face paint or headdresses that disrespect the heritage or customs of Native Americans.
And Native Americans have blessed the use of the Chiefs’ war drum in accordance with their customs and rituals.
But the ever-present “Arrowhead Chop” at home games, along with Chiefs officials’ unwillingness to disavow the cheer, are evidence that the team still has more work to do.
“The Arrowhead Chop is part of the game-day experience that is really important to our fans,” said team President Mark Donovan.
But why? Arrowhead Stadium is one of the loudest places to play in the NFL, and there’s no doubt that Chiefs fans will bring the noise — with or without the chop.
The divisive chant is racially insensitive and entirely unnecessary.
“The chop itself is the most disgusting thing you can do in sports,” said Amanda Blackhorse of Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots, a national group opposed to the use of Native American images in sports.
The continued use of Native American mascots, nicknames and themes in sports dehumanizes Native Americans, Blackhorse said.
“I disagree with so much of what they are doing,” she said of the Chiefs organization’s continued encouragement of the chop. “At this point, they are ignoring the opposition. Shame on them for allowing racism to happen in that stadium.”
Elizabeth Glynn, the CEO of Travois, which helps create affordable housing and economic development opportunities for American Indians, has spoken to leaders of tribal nations and said most are against the use of any imagery that depicts Native Americans in a bad light. Travois works with more than 100 tribes in 22 states.
“No one wants to take away the enjoyment for fans,” Glynn said. “There are a lot of ways to have fun at games. You can do that without labeling and stereotyping an entire group of people.”
Of course, the Chiefs aren’t the only organization that has clung to this offensive celebration. The Tomahawk Chop came under fire earlier this month during the Major League Baseball playoff series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves.
St. Louis pitcher Ryan Helsley of the Cherokee Nation was asked for his thoughts about the Braves’ game-day tradition. Helsley didn’t mince words, and the Atlanta organization immediately halted its foam tomahawks giveaway.
“I’m trying to use my voice to get awareness out there and try to help people in that way, to help people see another side, help people see our side,” Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
While sports teams have paid lip service to racial sensitivity, the Washington Redskins have shown no inclination to change their distasteful and inappropriate nickname. Cleveland’s baseball team was painfully slow to phase out its mascot, which belittled Native Americans, Chief Wahoo.
The Chiefs have taken steps in the right direction, but their unwavering commitment to the Arrowhead Chop is confounding and disappointing. What purpose does it serve? And why continue the chant if it offends even a single Native American?
Chiefs fans are among the most loyal and enthusiastic in the NFL. And there’s no doubt they would fill any void left by the absence of the chop with a high-decibel celebration of our team.
November is National Native American Heritage Month. The Chiefs plan to celebrate the culture during a game against Oakland on Dec. 1. But the organization could do far more good if it used this month to reevaluate a practice that perpetuates stereotypes and dehumanizes an entire group.
It’s time for a new Chiefs tradition.