Super Bowl 2020: Chiefs Fans Under Fire for Racist Impersonations and Cultural Appropriation of Native American Traditions

The Kansas City Chiefs are playing in the nation's biggest football game this Sunday, so there is more attention than ever on the racist costumes some of their fans are wearing. Chiefs fans are known for wearing face paint, headdresses and even full costumes meant to imitate Native Americans, and many are calling them out ahead of Super Bowl LIV. As always, the fans are defending their choices as a form of tribute, not cultural appropriation.

The offensive imagery among Kansas City Chiefs fans is nothing new, as critics are acknowledging on Twitter ahead of the game. They are asking fans to give up the "tomahawk chop" salute they are known for, as well as the costumes.

Many are commenting on the task of convincing other fans to put away their headdresses and tomahawks without making them feel attacked. Others feel that fans have gotten enough warnings, and it is time for outrage.

"[I] love my city, go chiefs, but please retire the racist tomahawk throw and don't wear a f—ing headdress unless you're a native american war hero thanks," one person wrote.

"Every picture of Chiefs fans I see I get agitated," added another. "C'mon man, let's see it, where's the f—er with the headdress. The REAL fans with the makeup and lance covered in dyed chicken feathers."

Some fans are conscious of the outcry against these forms of fandom, but still argue in their favor, saying they are "cultural appreciation" not appropriation. Critics have worked extensively to disprove this argument, and continue to appeal to the Chiefs to change their name altogether.

Writer Rhonda LeValdo wrote an essay on this issue for the Super Bowl, published by Vox on Saturday. An Acoma Pueblo woman from Kansas City, LeValdo had some very specific thoughts on the appropriation of the Chiefs in particular. She shared the story of speaking with one man who insisted his Chiefs costume "honored" Native culture.

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"The man I spoke to was also a military veteran. He refused to believe that his dressing up as a Native American is cultural appropriation, instead saying the clothing and dances 'honor' Native Americans by continuing their traditions. I asked him how he feels about people who pretend to be veterans when they are not," she wrote. "That is what the Native headdress equates to: Chiefs went to battle and earned it, much like the medals military veterans earn."

Conversations about this kind of racism have taken center stage in recent years. In 2019, Today host Megyn Kelly was fired from NBC for insinuating that blackface "was okay" at a certain point in time. However, even in this fertile ground Native American culture is usually left out of the discourse.