The Kansas City Chiefs were named for H. Roe Bartle, the mayor of Kansas City in the early 1960s. Nicknamed "Chief," Mayor Bartle was instrumental in attracting Lamar Hunt's American Football League franchise, the Dallas Texans, to Kansas City in 1963. With a new home in a new state, Hunt's franchise needed a new name, and longtime Chiefs executive Jack Steadman recommended the name "Chiefs" as an homage to Bartle's efforts.
While the origin of the team's name has no affiliation with American Indian culture, much of the club's early promotional activities relied heavily on imagery and messaging depicting American Indians in a racially insensitive fashion. Over the course of the club's 60-plus-year history, the Chiefs organization has worked to eliminate this offensive imagery and other forms of cultural appropriation in their promotional materials and game-day presentation.
To enhance those efforts, in 2014, Chiefs leadership initiated a dialogue with the American Indian Community Working Group, a collection of leaders from a diverse group of American Indian communities in Kansas City and the surrounding area. The club's leadership asked the Working Group to educate them on the key issues facing Indian Country, to evaluate club practices and traditions including the game-day presentation, and to offer guidance and direction on ways the club could better honor American Indian culture.
As a result of those conversations, the Chiefs organization implemented several changes to the game-day presentation at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium including:
- Continue honoring tribes with a historic presence or connection to the region by celebrating American Indian Heritage Month Games at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium
- Hold a ceremonial blessing of the Drum which is used as part of various gameday elements at all home games
- Blessing of the Four Directions
- Regularly feature American Indian representatives as part of gameday elements, including national anthem singers and color guards
- The club has also addressed issues of cultural appropriation with the outright banning of headdresses and face paint at the stadium on gameday
- The team retired Warpaint as an ambassador of the Chiefs brand and as part of the gameday experience at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium
In addition to a review of the game-day presentation, some of the earliest discussions with the Working Group centered around the name of the franchise. Though the name "Chiefs" did not originate as a reference to American Indians, the franchise connected a significant portion of its promotional activities and imagery to American Indian culture. And in several instances, particularly in the early years of the franchise, these actions played on harmful stereotypes.
The Working Group made it clear in its evaluation that if the club was sincere in its desire to respect American Indian culture, changes needed to be made. But they were just as clear and consistent that the franchise should not change its name.
"The Chiefs organization has demonstrated a genuine desire to learn about the issues that are important to the American Indian community. They've listened to our concerns and made meaningful changes out of respect for American Indian heritage."
— John Learned (Cheyenne-Arapaho), American Indian Community Working Group
Like any community, American Indians maintain a diverse set of views on a range of issues including our franchise name and other aspects of our game-day presentation. There will be members of the American Indian community who feel we have not done enough and others who believe we have gone too far in the changes we have enacted. To expect homogeneity from any community or culture is wrong, and we certainly understand and respect the members of the American Indian community who hold differing perspectives.
The Chiefs are committed to ensuring that our actions as a club honor American Indians. We remain grateful for the candid and constructive conversations with the members of the Working Group and other leaders in the American Indian community that have helped us eradicate the racially insensitive practices of the past. We will continue to work closely with American Indian leaders from the surrounding area to explore additional ways to use our platform to celebrate American Indian heritage.