From Alex D. Davis sent to Rhonda LeValdo, a letter to CEO of KC football team Mr. Hunt July 9, 2020
I am a 21-year-old college student who, until four years ago, lived in Kansas City, Kansas. Since my adolescence, I have been a devoted fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and in 2012, my family had Chiefs season tickets. My greatest childhood memories were spent at Arrowhead Stadium cheering on Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, and Derrick Johnson. My fandom was coupled with a deep interest in learning the history of the team and as a result, I learned much about how your father, Lamar Hunt, founded the American Football League and the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs. It was true courage that your father was instrumental in ensuring that the early Texans/Chiefs were an integrated and diverse team. The team hired the first full-time black scout in pro football, fielded the first black middle linebacker in pro football, and the Super Bowl IV team had the most black players in pro football history to play in a championship game at that time. As you can imagine, I was elated about my hometown team’s return to greatness in the last two years, culminating with the team finally bringing the Lamar Hunt Trophy back to Kansas City and our victory in Super Bowl LIV. I can honestly say that February 2nd, 2020 was one of the greatest days of my life.
However, my excitement was diminished when I began reading articles in recent weeks about how there has been increasing controversy regarding the Chiefs’ name and gameday traditions disrespecting the Native American culture. I had previously known that the team was given its name in a tribute to former Kansas City Mayor Roe Bartle, who was affectionately known as “The Chief.” What I was not aware of was that he was also the founder of a Boy Scout chapter known as the “Mic-O-Say” that has long appropriated Native American customs and that the Chiefs have followed many of the same practices. In a January 2020 op-ed for Kansas City Star by Rhonda LeValdo, a communications instructor at Haskell Indian Nations University, she states that the Chiefs have continued to promote cultural appropriation at their games, writing that:
So many of the images used in the Kansas City games — the arrowhead, which is specifically Native American; the horse called “War Paint” they prance around the field before the game; the beating drums; and that tomahawk chop — are used in disrespectful and often bastardized contexts. For example, Native people respect the drum, and that drum is never used in the presence of alcohol. War Paint is used to mark our horses and warriors to protect them. Using our cultural ways to “pump up” your team is disrespectful and racist.
Instructor LeValdo’s commentary is further corroborated by a research report into the harmful psychological effects of the Washington NFL team and other Native American mascots on Native and non-Native people compiled by Dr. Michael A. Friedman. The report states that:
Importantly, these experimental studies also demonstrate that even if the Washington mascot is a benign image that “honors” Native Americans the effect of spreading this stereotypical view can be damaging. Psychological theory and research demonstrate that even positive stereotypes can be damaging by [an] increasing risk of being conceptualized by self or others in a limited and narrow way.
Dr. Friedman concludes his research by asserting:
The findings of this report support the conclusions of the damaging effects of Native American mascots that have been previously asserted by over 100 Native American organizations, religious and civil rights organizations and professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, and the American Counseling Association.
This stunning research is undoubtedly the reason why The University of North Dakota, Stanford University, and many other universities and high schools across the nation have chosen to change their mascots. In a similar fashion, states such as Oregon and Maine have passed legislation banning Native American mascots from high school sports, and just this year a bill has been proposed in the Illinois State Legislature that will also ban Native American mascots and insensitive gameday traditions.
The empirical evidence, numerous op-eds in the Kansas City Star, and recent actions that have been taken by the Washington NFL franchise and Cleveland MLB franchise have led me to believe that it is now time for the Kansas City Chiefs to divest themselves of Native American imagery, the tomahawk chop, ceremonial drum beating, Institute a ban of Native headdresses and regalia in the stadium, and begin a conversation about whether the team’s name is appropriate for the current times. I understand that the Chiefs have opened conversations and established genuine relationships with local Native American leaders, which includes commemorating Native American Heritage Month and asking tribal elders to bless the ceremonial drum before kickoff, but it is clear that enough Indigenous people across the region and the country have communicated that Native American mascots do not honor them, but instead, are taken as an insult to their rich heritage and sacred traditions.
As an African-American, I can empathize with having my community subject to stereotypes, and that is the reason why I feel compelled to address this issue with you personally. The current practices of cultural appropriation by the Kansas City Chiefs should also be taken seriously as this franchise represents the community of Greater Kansas City. Since I have moved out of the Kansas City area, and particularly since our historic victory in Super Bowl LIV, the team has given greater visibility to our city and region. It would be a terrible misfortune to have the rest of the country look poorly upon our city due to these obvious cultural insensitivities. It is also worth mentioning that with the unprecedented star power of Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs will most likely join the ranks of the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, and Pittsburgh Steelers as one of the most visible franchises in the National Football League. If the NFL truly wants to embody Commissioner Goodell’s resolution that they “condemn racism” and stand with the Black Lives Matter/anti racist movement, one of their flagship franchises should take the lead and make the necessary changes to their gameday traditions.
I want to end this letter with a plea to you, Mr. Hunt, to search your heart and to put yourself in the shoes of the Indigenous community, given all of the information I have presented. From many of the speeches I have heard you give over the years, I have heard you express a deep faith in Christ and I hope that you would put your faith to action regarding this issue. I understand that my requests may seem to be daunting, but as our nation works to address systemic racism, it is imperative that Kansas City’s NFL franchise is on the right side of history. I hope to continue the dialogue with you and meet in the spirit of reconciliation as we come to grips with these seismic issues.
Alexander D. Davis
Cc: Mark Donavon, President of the Kansas City Chiefs
Another Letter from an Ally
Hi Rhonda, my name is RJ Wilson. I am a Boy Scout Leader in the Heart of America Council (Kansas City Metro). This morning at 1:30AM I returned all MOS regalia to the Council Office with a note telling Alan Sanders that they need to stop appropriating Native culture. Before I was in this position I worked with Lyn Shaw, Dennis Langley, Frank Lamere and others on making life better in tribal land. I went a long with some of the MOS stuff because I thought it was helping kids stay at camp and it had a purpose. I just can’t sit by and keep letting the appropriation happen. The action I took tonight will start to heal my conscience and the work I do from here forward will continue that journey. If you would ever like to talk I would be happy to visit. I fully expect these guys to engage in character assassination on me for this move, but I am one of their top uniformed volunteers in their largest district. As Lyn always says, what are they gonna do, take away my birthday? Thank you for the work you’re doing on this topic. I hope to be an ally.