Three days after Cleveland’s baseball team announced it will be switching its name from the Indians to the Guardians, Kansas City Chiefs president Mark Donovan reiterated that the Chiefs have no plans to change their name.
They will, however, distance themselves from a tradition involving Native American imagery.
The Chiefs will no longer have Warpaint, a horse ridden by a Chiefs cheerleader, on the field on game days. A fixture at home games for decades, the mascot of sorts is being retired.
“We feel like it’s time to retire Warpaint,” Donovan said at the Chiefs training camp at Missouri Western State University on Monday. “A lot of reasons for that, but we feel like it’s the right thing to do. Warpaint won’t be running at Arrowhead anymore.”
The original Warpaint dates back to the team’s home games at Municipal Stadium. Then, a man in a headdress would ride the horse across the field after touchdowns.
After Carl Peterson took over as team president and general manager in 1989, the regime eliminated the tradition, replacing it with a mascot, KC Wolf. The horse returned in 2009, this time ridden by a Chiefs cheerleader rather than a man donning a headdress.
Over the past several years, the Chiefs have altered some of their connections to Native Americans, the result of ongoing conversations with an American Indian working group. Last year, the team banned headdresses and face paint that depicted American Indian culture.
They also changed their signature tomahawk “chop” motion performed by cheerleaders and fans during games. The Chop now is supposed to be done with a closed fist instead of an open hand.
“Obviously we knew about the Cleveland decision a year-plus ago,” said Donovan, referring to Cleveland’s initial announcement of their intentions to change their name. “We knew this was going to happen. (It) doesn’t really change our approach. ...
“We’ll continue to take the path that we’ve taken — educating ourselves, educating our fans, creating opportunities to create awareness.”
Some 15 years ago, a group of then-college students formed “Not in Our Honor” and made public a protest they had more privately advocated for years — the removal of Native American imagery in sports. More than a decade later, they continue to show up to Chiefs games fighting the same cause, even if some American Indians disagree that the team’s use of such imagery is offensive.
More recently, the Chiefs have tried to learn more about Native American culture. For seven years, they’ve convened what they call an American Indian Working Group, to “honor, educate and create awareness of American Indian culture for our fans,” as Donovan put it in a past interview.
In policies that derived from those conversations — which remain ongoing — the Chiefs announced ahead of the 2020 season that they would bar fans from entering the stadium wearing headdresses or with faces painted in a way that depicts American Indian culture.
In 2014, also a product of discussions with the working group, the Chiefs began inviting Native Americans onto the field for the blessing of a drum, on which a former player or other luminary bangs a mallet to start The Chop before each home game.
But they have no plans to take the action that the Washington Football Team made one year ago, or what Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team announced Friday: a name change.
Members of the working group that meets with the Chiefs have said they take no issue with the name itself, which is not a racial slur. The Chiefs also do not have a logo with the head of a Native American, like the Washington Redskins once used.
But they are still forever bound to the Native American community because of past traditions — even if it’s true that the organization is named for Harold Roe Bartle, the former mayor who helped bring the franchise to KC and was once nicknamed “The Chief.”