For the third time since 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs are headed to the Super Bowl to face off against the Philadelphia Eagles, and again we may see pushback against the former team’s arrowhead logo and name, which some perceive to represent cultural appropriation of Native American imagery.
The Chiefs franchise has opposed a rebranding, making it the only National Football League team that uses both a name and a logo that references Native American culture. In 2020, the only other holdout, the Washington Redskins, rebranded itself the Washington Commanders and scrapped its Indian head logo. (Read about the surprising reasons these companies and brands changed their names.)
In 2021, the Cleveland Indians baseball team followed suit by rebranding itself the Cleveland Guardians and dropping its cartoonish Native American mascot. The Atlanta Braves remains the only Major League Baseball team that uses an indigenous name and imagery.
The MLB has defended the Atlanta Braves franchise, saying the team has “built an active and supportive relationship with Native American leaders and communities,” citing support from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) and the Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns.
But critics like Chief David Hill of the Oklahoma-based Muscogee Nation dismiss this strategy. “I don’t think that’s how Indian Country works,” Hill’s spokesperson Jason Salsman told ABC News in 2021, using the term that encompasses all Native American communities. “You need to speak to the whole of Indian Country and make sure that you get a grand consensus.”
Since 2005, some NCAA athletic programs have been compelled to remove Native American-themed nicknames and symbols after the collegiate sports association said it would ban these nicknames and symbols from postseason tournaments.
The NCAA also has said teams using generic terms like “tribe” and “braves” are acceptable so long as they aren’t paired with native imagery, such as the depiction of feathers, which hold traditional spiritual significance among some indigenous groups. The NCAA also allows athletic programs to use the names of specific local tribes if the schools have obtained permission from them. (These are the teams with the most NCAA championships.)
24/7 Tempo gleaned information from archived news articles to compile a list of professional and college sports teams with names that have come under fire over the years for various reasons, including cultural appropriation. Teams who have already changed names, such as the Washington Commanders, were excluded.
Click here to see 15 sports teams who still haven’t changed their problematic names
Out of 15 teams or athletic programs that continue to be criticized for cultural appropriation, eleven have been targeted for using Indian imagery or costumes. Three teams on this list are considered offensive by some for Christian religious reasons. Filling out the list is the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in which some argue the word “Rainbow” should be removed because of its association to the LGBT community.
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