KC fans under closer scrutiny for chants, 'tomahawk chops'

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FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2017, file photo, a Kansas City Chiefs fan does the "tomahawk chop" during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo. While other sports teams using Native American nicknames and imagery have faced decades of protests and boycotts, the Chiefs have largely slid under the radar. Vincent Schilling, associate editor of Indian Country Today, said it's time for the Chiefs to face the music. "When I see something like a tomahawk chop, which is derived from television and film portrayals, I find it incredibly offensive because it is an absolutely horrible stereotype of what a native person is." (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann, File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While other sports teams using Native American nicknames and imagery have faced decades of protests and boycotts, the Kansas City Chiefs have largely slid under the radar.

Until now.

The Chiefs will appear in their first Super Bowl in 50 years Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, and what is traditionally the nation's largest TV audience will watch Kansas City fans break into a “war chant” and mimic tomahawk chops. Although many defend the display as a fun fan tradition, others view it as offensive and racist to Native Americans.

Vincent Schilling, associate editor of Indian Country Today, said it's time for the Chiefs to face the music.

“When I see something like a tomahawk chop, which is derived from television and film portrayals, I find it incredibly offensive because it is an absolutely horrible stereotype of what a native person is," Schilling said. “It’s not much more than a cartoon. My people are not a cartoon. My community is not a cartoon. My heritage is not a cartoon."

Plenty of franchises have been confronted over Native American stereotypes. The NFL's Washington Redskins have faced protests since the 1980s. The Cleveland Indians were so besieged by complaints over their Chief Wahoo emblem that the baseball team removed it from all uniforms last season.

The Atlanta Braves made changes during the baseball playoffs in October after St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, called a “war chant” by Braves fans disrespectful. The Braves did not distribute their traditional red foam tomahawks to fans before Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

Fans of the Chiefs, like those of the Braves, long ago adopted the chanting and arm movement symbolizing the brandishing of a tomahawk that began at Florida State University in the 1980s.