Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs petitioning Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday for a masked and socially distant start to the NFL season will not wear headdresses or face-paint after George Floyd dies in Minneapolis police custody.
The reigning Super Bowl champion's move has pleased Native Americans as a good first step, but frustrates some of the 17,000 fans who will be in the stands as the team steps onto the field first in front of an audience – albeit smaller than normal. during the coronavirus pandemic. Enforcement of the new restrictions also comes when the team tries to claim masks, which has proven difficult in some public practices.
NFL teams featuring Native American mascots are under increasing scrutiny after the Washington team decided to change its name after a long and often controversial dialogue with fans and the public. The Chiefs also announced last month that the team was discussing the future of its tomahawk chop celebration amid complaints that it was racist.
Students at the nearby Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, called for changes, among other things.
“Using that mascot and having this following of mostly white people wearing face-paint and headdresses and doing the tomahawk chop and energizing them and giving them that sense of power and then thinking that nothing about that being wrong is just mind blowing to me, "said William Wilkinson, past president of Haskell's University Student Government Association.
Wilkinson, who is Navajo, Cherokee, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, said the team's nickname will eventually have to change too.
"It dehumanizes us and gives us Indians the image of being that wild animal hungry to fight when we're nothing like that in real life," said the 22-year-old business major from Madison, Wisconsin.
Ty Rowton, a self-described superfan who goes to games as an X-Factor and wears an arrowhead, beads and a player-signed cloak, has made a change to his costume. Instead of face paint, he sticks duct tape with Bible verses on his face.
He was stopped by security while he was wearing makeup for a training camp, but said he has since received approval for the ensemble. Still, he thinks the team changes are an overreaction and says fans love to pose with people wearing headdresses. He also thinks the team should keep the tomahawk chop as well.
“It is something that whirls us together and that we do as one. It was never meant to be disrespectful at all, ”he said.
Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, said it was wrong to use "a race of people as mascots". Her group has been calling for change for years and she believes the dynamic may shift.
"It was always swept under the rug, but because the Washington team relied so much on it to make the change, some of the others are now feeling the heat," she said. "I hope this is the beginning of the end of this acceptable racism."
After Floyd's death, calls for treatment of racial issues have become more common. Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer tied his knee to Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes while being arrested for counterfeit money. The officer and three other officers were dismissed and charged with Floyd's death.
65-year-old fan Connie Jo Gillespie, a mix of East Woodland Shawnee, Plains Cree and Mississippi Chickasaw, supports the headdress ban, but believes the Chief's name should stay. She sees herself as a hardcore fan and praised the team's efforts to work with national organizations that work closely on issues affecting Indians.
For example, the Chiefs celebrate American Indian Heritage Month by inviting elders to a game each year and having them perform a ceremonial “Blessing of the Drum and the Four Directions of the Arrowhead Stadium”.
"The KC Chiefs have the ability to culturally educate non-Indians about our heritage, culture and traditions by name," she wrote. "Together with local and regional Native American leaders and tribesmen, they use this opportunity wisely to act culturally, educate and respect the culture and heritage of the Indians."