The Real Problem with the Chiefs - and Football
Protesters, including numerous Native American groups, called today for the Chiefs to change their name due to insensitivity toward Native American groups. In fact, this past year the Chiefs banned headdresses and NA-themed face painting. The team says they'll continue to explore the issue with the goal being to “honor Native American heritage while celebrating the fan experience.” (See also their statement here: https://www.chiefs.com/.../a-statement-from-the-kansas... - although hopefully they won't end up being called the Kansas City Football Team...) As with debate surrounding other sports teams, the controversy largely centers around the issues of respect for/appropriation of Native American culture. For example, defenders of the Chiefs name point out that the team name is drawn from KC Mayor H. Roe Bartle, who was so impressed by Native American culture that he founded the Native American-based honor society known as The Tribe of Mic-O-Say within the Boy Scouts of America organization, which earned him the nickname, "The Chief." Others argue that the organization was only loosely based on NA customs, did not demonstrate true understanding of the nuances of the NA community, and that in any case if numerous contemporary Native Americans are opposed, that needs to be considered as well. But to my mind, the whole debate misses another key element that should be much more central to the entire discussion. It is no coincidence that it is overwhelmingly men who get dressed up in the headdresses. Just look at the image featured in this post, and it is clear that the question is not just about the problematics of appropriating NA culture, but also promoting and acting out problematic conceptions of masculinity. Though there were other popular conceptions, to many, Native American "savages" were seen as the ultimate model of uncivilized barbarian culture, and to dress accordingly is to essentially coopt that culture and reclaim it as a masculine ideal of violent, aggressive, fierce men hunting their prey in the wild. While it is true that living out a fantasy of regressing to animalistic violence is better than actually engaging in it, and that there are many aspects of sports that can be seen as healthy outlets for our inborn aggressive tendencies, it is also true that we should not tolerate or condone this behavior, if only because it sends and reinforces the message that true, healthy masculinity is best represented by a man on the hunt. Presumably the Noda be-Yehuda would have opposed not just hunting, but also getting dressed up like a fierce, violent hunter - like Nimrod or Esav - as well. Some will respond, "But wait - the Noda be-Yehuda is talking about Jews!" True, but presumably he wouldn't recommend that a religiously aspirational gentile should strive to be like Hazal's depiction of Nimrod or Esav, and in any case, we'd be naive to think that the cultural norms in the larger society don't trickle into our own. Others will respond and say, "Well, isn't that exactly what football is in the first place? A sort of sophisticated reenactment of some of the violent, barbaric tendencies that typify the baser part of our natures?" In other words, that it is a problematic expression of that natural tendency toward violence? That may well be. But that's not an argument in favor of headdresses, it's just another argument against football.