Kansas City Chiefs fans, take note.
The beaver-tooth grin, shifty cartoon eyes and bright red skin of the offensive character known as Chief Wahoo will no long appear on the uniforms of the Cleveland Indians, beginning next year.
No Native American ever looked like Chief Wahoo. And this was a decision long overdue. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred deserves credit for pressuring Cleveland’s ownership to take action.
The demise of Chief Wahoo should serve as fair warning to the Kansas City Chiefs and the team’s fans that belittling Native people under the guise of sports is not acceptable.
The Chiefs organization has made some efforts in recent years to engage in dialogue with Native American leaders. The team has urged television producers to not focus on the antics of fans who insist on showing up at Arrowhead Stadium, their bodies marked with what they envision as war paint, sporting dime-store interpretations of headdresses.
But now it’s all the more important for the Chiefs to keep the lines of communication open with sovereign nations and to continue to listen to their concerns.
In June, the National Congress of American Indians will meet in Kansas City. The Congress has led constructive conversations about the use of mascots and other imagery. The Congress acknowledges fans’ sentimental attachment to mascots and the financial cost when teams make changes, while still calling out the damage offensive team logos and nicknames can cause.
“At the end of the day, there is no excuse for cultural stereotypes that degrade, slander, mock or belittle Native people,” reads a Congress policy statement.
More than 100 of the more than 560 federally recognized tribes are represented by people living in the metropolitan area, according to Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center. They are not mascots.
The Center’s board has not taken a position on Kansas City’s football team, nor does it have a relationship with Chiefs management.
But Crouser’s personal view about the Cleveland Indians is unequivocal: “Chief Wahoo is a racist characterization, akin to Frito Bandito and Sambo,” she said.
Some will bemoan Cleveland’s decision to retire the logo as caving in to political correctness.
But the future is clear, and Chiefs fans should take heed before they don a headdress next season. Societal attitudes are finally shifting.
Fans who continue to demean and mock Native people will spur backlash against the Chiefs organization and ratchet up pressure on the team to make more significant changes.
— The Kansas City Star