K.C. Chiefs kickoff NFL 2020, veto Native American headdresses and face paint
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws a pass during NFL football training camp, Aug. 21, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. | Charlie Riedel / AP

In just a few hours, the 2020 NFL Season will officially kick-off at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Reigning Super Bowl LIV champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, will face the Houston Texans pitting two of the best and youngest starting quarterbacks in the NFL against each other.

The real kicker (pun intended) will be seeing some 17,000 fans in the stands (socially distanced and masked) as the Chiefs become the first team to take the field in front of a crowd—a smaller one, of course, during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

And of those fans in attendance, none will be allowed to wear Native American headdresses or face paint, long a fixture of Chiefs games. The team’s decision comes amid a nationwide push for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd and the continuing efforts led by Indigenous organizations calling for the removal of all racist mascots in sports.

Enforcing both (justified) restrictions will prove challenging as more and more people disregard public mask ordinances and opt to ignore the racist undertones of some team names and mascots.

The Chiefs, along with other NFL, MLB, and NHL teams with Native American mascots, are facing increased scrutiny following the Washington Football team’s decision to drop “Redskins” as its name after a long and quite contentious fight with fans and the general public.

Gaylene Crouser, executive director of the Kansas City Indian Center, said it’s wrong to use “a race of people as a mascot.” Her group has demanded changes for years, and she thinks the momentum may be shifting.

In this Feb. 2, 2020 file photo, a Kansas City Chiefs fan walks outside the stadium before the NFL Super Bowl LIV football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Kansas City Chiefs fans who file into Arrowhead stadium Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, for a masked and socially distanced start to the current season won’t be wearing headdresses or face paint amid a nationwide push for racial justice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. | Seth Wenig / AP

“It has always been swept under the rug, but because the Washington team was leaned on so hard that they made the change, now some of the other ones are starting to feel the heat,” she said. “I hope this is the beginning of the end of this acceptable racism.”

The Chiefs announced last month that the team was discussing the future of its tomahawk chop celebration following complaints that such cheer and dance are racist.

Students at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., are among those who demanded changes.

“Using this mascot and having this fan base of predominantly white people wearing face paint and headdresses and doing the tomahawk chop, and it energizes them and gives them this sense of power, and then thinking there is nothing wrong with doing that is just mind-boggling to me,” said William Wilkinson, Haskell’s former University Student Government Association president.

Wilkinson, who is Navajo, Cherokee, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, said eventually the team nickname also must change.

“It dehumanizes us and gives us Native Americans this picture of being this savage beast that is hungry for fighting when in real life we are nothing like that,” said the 22-year-old business major from Madison, Wisc.

With an unprecedented NFL offseason, canceled pre-season games due to the pandemic, and a fight against racism and police brutality raging in the streets of America, who knows what the season will hold or have in store for fans on both sides of the political spectrum.

We’ll have to wait and see.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.