Leading up to this year’s Super Bowl match-up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs a lot of attention has been placed on the match-up between quarterbacks Jalen Hurts of the Eagles, and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. Barring a late scratch by one of the quarterbacks due to injury, this will mark the first time that two black quarterbacks have started in the Super Bowl.
Having two black quarterbacks starting in a Super Bowl is of course an important milestone. Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to start a Super Bowl in 1988. Williams was named Super Bowl MVP after leading his team to a decisive victory in Super Bowl XXII. Including Williams, seven black quarterbacks have played in the Super Bowl, with three of the seven leading their team to victory.
With a week of media coverage leading up to the game, the head-to-head battle between Hurts and Mahomes is the type of human interest story that reporters love to cover. Another story gaining traction ahead of the game is the fact that Travis Kelce suiting up for the Chiefs and Jason Kelce playing for the Eagles will mark the first time two brothers have played for different teams in the Super Bowl.
I had the opportunity to cover Super Bowl XXXVIII between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers and found trying to find new things to write about each day leading up to the game to be quite exhausting. By the time I finished my “Postcards from the Bowl” series, I was worn out from covering the Super Bowl long before the time kickoff rolled around.
My exhaustion was likely not helped by the fact that after spending eight hours at the Super Bowl experience each day, I still had to do my day job of laying out a sports section and covering high school games.
I say all of this to point out that there is a lot of stuff that gets covered leading up to a Super Bowl. One could argue that there is information overload for the reporters covering the game who are working hard between all of the various social events and parties.
Even the pregame show on the day of the Super Bowl is “super-sized” to the point that the game can often be seen as an afterthought, or merely something to fill the time between the commercials and halftime show.
One thing that should not be relegated to the noise, or considered an afterthought, involves Kansas City’s use of Native American names, image and likeness.
In recent years, a slate of professional sports teams have changed names tied to Native Americans and Indigenous peoples. This includes an MLB team in Cleveland, a Canadian Football League team in Edmonton, and an NFL team in Washington, D.C.
As some readers may recall, I have written extensively about my own association with growing up as a fan of the Washington Commanders back when they were known by another name.
While I think that Commanders is a lame name, it does not impact my memories of supporting the team. It does however impact my willingness to buy new team merch. After all, what exactly are they commanding?
While I wish that they had picked a better name, I understand why the name was changed.
While earning my M.S. in Sport Management, I explored the subject of Native American mascots and iconography used by sports teams extensively. Team names like Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Eskimos, and Redskins have long been considered offensive to some indigenous people.
The origin of the team names in many cases were first set up in the early parts of the 20th Century as part of imperialist nostalgia, and the myth of the vanishing race. In both instances, the belief being that the best way to honor the nostalgia of the vanquished was to use names and imagery to remind people of them.
Of course, the problem with hanging one’s nickname hat on imperialist nostalgia, and the myth of the vanishing race, is that the Native American populations are very much still among us. They remain despite efforts throughout American history to wipe them out, or relegate them to out of sight, and out of mind reservations.
So, the use of a population as a mascot becomes problematic when one tries to adhere to the “all men (and women) are created equal” wording of the founding fathers.
Which brings us back full circle to this year’s Super Bowl.
Native American activists who have been urging the team to retire the name “Chiefs,” the arrowhead and the rest of an accumulated 60-plus years of cultural appropriation and stereotyping plan to protest the Chiefs ahead of the game in Phoenix, Arizona.
Although they use Native American iconography, the origin of the Kansas City name is a little different from some of the other sports teams who use Native American terms. The Chiefs were named after former Kansas City Mayor H. Roe “Chief” Bartle as a reward for his efforts to convince Lamar Hunt to move the Dallas Texans, to Kansas City in 1963.
Much like the Washington team before them, the Chiefs have aligned themselves with a group of Native Americans who do not find the name offensive, while mostly ignoring those who do. In defending their name and use of Native American iconography, the Chiefs have an entire website dedicated to all of the ways that they are including Native Americans in their game day festivities.
Of course, as the saga in Washington D.C. showed, Native American culture is not a monolith. Gaining buy-in from one group does not mean that every Native American agrees that the continued use of their imagery is not offensive.
It is likely that when the Chiefs take the field in their third Super Bowl in four years, the Kansas City fans in the stands, and around the globe will do the “tomahawk chop” and “war cry” whenever Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs do something good. There will likely even be some fans wearing headdresses and war paint at the game despite the Kansas City Chiefs barring that practice from their home stadium a few years back.
As was the case with me so many years ago, a majority of fans may be unaware that what they are doing is offensive to Native American groups. Such is the sneaky embrace of cultural appropriation.
Unless something changes, the Chiefs will continue to blaze an increasingly less crowded trail with the Atlanta Braves and Florida State Seminoles clinging on to their mascots and customs for the benefit of their fans, and the detriment of indigenous people who have suffered great injustice throughout the history of the great experiment in democracy known as the United States of America.
The purpose of this column is not to make people feel guilty for mistakes and actions taken in the past. The past is the past. As has been said many times, one most learn from the mistakes of history in order to ensure that they are not repeated in the future. Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
It is certainly a cause for celebration that there are two black quarterbacks taking the field in the Super Bowl this year. However, as the protests by Native Americans outside the stadium show, there is still a long way to go until all groups can enjoy the game and feel equally recognized.
As the NFL looks to expand their global footprint, it would be wise for them to look at how they treat Native Americans and other groups domestically before spreading their brand further on the international stage.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready to watch some commercials disguised as a football game.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson