Chiefs: We're firing the horse but not changing our name

AP Photo/Gregory Bull

For now, anyway. After the Cleveland Indians — named in homage to a real Native Americandumped their century-old name for the moniker of the local roller derby squad, all eyes turned to Kansas City and the Chiefs. The NFL team announced yesterday that it has no plans to change its name despite a long campaign against it.

The Chiefs will fire their horse instead. Excuse me, retire the horse:

Speaking with reporters ahead of the open of Chiefs training camp, team president Mark Donovan said the club has engaged in constant conversations regarding its nickname, but at this time the organization has no plans to change.

“We have a really good American Indian working group that provides us real guidance and feedback — perspective on this issue,” Donovan said. “Obviously, we knew about the Cleveland decision a year plus ago, so we knew this was going to happen. [It] doesn’t really change our approach. We’re going to continue to create opportunities to educate, create awareness and work exactly as we have over the past eight years now with the working group. We’ve expanded our working group, to get more voices. As I’ve said before, one of the things you find within the American Indian community, which is not unlike any community, is there are divergent views. You’re going to find someone who believes one thing and someone who believes just as strongly in the other. That’s true within the American Indian community. It’s also true when it comes to these issues.” …

On Monday, Donovan announced another change coming this season. The team intends to eliminate the running of Warpaint, an American Indian-themed horse mascot, from pregame activities. Warpaint has been with the franchise since its inception but was previously retired in 1989. The franchise brought it back in 2009 for its 50th anniversary. As it turns out, the tradition should have stayed retired.

“So, we made some significant changes last year, which we are proud of, and we believe were the right things to do,” Donovan said. “Over the last probably, year and a half, we’ve looked at some changes. One we’re going to implement this year: We feel like the time to retire Warpaint. There are a lot of reasons for that, but we just feel like it’s the right thing to do. So Warpaint won’t be running at Arrowhead anymore.”

Note the phrase “at this time,” a signal that this is not at all their final decision. That may be in part based on the origin of the name “Chiefs.” While the Indians named their team after Cleveland Spiders player Louis Sockalexis, one of the pioneer Native Americans in major-league baseball, the Chiefs were named in honor of, er … a white mayor who was big into cultural appropriation, according to CNN:

The Chiefs are named for former Kansas City mayor Harold Roe Bartle, a White man who impersonated Native American culture.

Before becoming mayor, Bartle was actively involved in leadership of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1925, he created the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, a scouting organization that drew on Native American heritage and customs.

Bartle was not a Native American, but claimed he was “inducted into a local tribute of the Arapaho people,” according to Mohawk journalist Vincent Schilling. Bartle was called “Lone Bear,” and later came to be colloquially known as “Chief.”

Nearly 40 years later, Bartle served two terms as mayor of Kansas City and helped bring the Dallas Texans football team there. The team was eventually renamed the Chiefs in Bartle’s honor.

Whatevs. The Chiefs don’t need to change their name, and neither did the Indians. It matters not one whit where the names originated; neither name is offensive, and that should have been the end of it. (The tomahawk chop can go any time, though, just on the basis of how annoying it is.) The opposition to these names has always been narrow, and the teams should have defended their position and their branding with more vigor.

However, given this origin story, you just know that the Chiefs will eventually cave on this and find another name. Let’s hope they do better than Cleveland, which fumbled their big change much like they spent decades fumbling their chances at post-season. Not only did their new logo look amateurish, so did their research:

The newly renamed Cleveland Guardians aren’t the only Guardians in town.

When the Cleveland Indians announced their name change last week, the move was met with a mixed reaction among baseball fans. It also raised a red flag with a local roller derby team named the… Cleveland Guardians.

That could spell trouble for the baseball club, as their neighbors on skates are the owners of the clevelandguardians.com domain, as well as social media monikers it might be interested in — @ClevelandGuardians on Instagram and Facebook.

While the roller derby team appears to have abandoned its trademark, the Bryant Street Sports LLC of New York filed for trademarks protections for “Cleveland Guardians” in 2020. The Indians objected to the application this month, and the filing was withdrawn on July 21 — which may signify the sides worked something out, or that the baseball team filed its own application.

The name “Guardians” is already pretty lame. Why bother to choose it when the domain is already owned by another sports team? Is the name sooooo awesome that it’s worth spending six or seven figures to wrest it away from its original owners? (Answer: No.)

Let that be a lesson to the soon-to-be-Not-Chiefs. Do a Google search before hiring a graphic artist to design the new logo. And don’t choose Kansas City Bombers for the next name, not unless you’re putting Raquel Welch out onto the field. Meanwhile, someone find an employment lawyer for Warpaint …