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Minnesota Opinion: Drop the 'chop' from all games

From the editorial: Petition to ban the so-called tomahawk chop "is the latest in mounting public pressure against team names and logos that are inappropriate — and that always were, even if many of us chose to look the other way. "

KC Chiefs fans.jpg
Kansas City Chiefs fans "tomahawk chop" as time runs off of the clock against the Houston Texans during the AFC Wild Card game in 2016 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

It took a 9-year-old — a fourth-grader, for heaven’s sake — to start a petition that can finally lead to doing away with the distasteful and offensive “ tomahawk chop ,” a mainstay “cheer” at certain college and professional football and baseball games for more than 30 years.

Its slow arm extension, mimicking a chopping motion, accompanied by its mocking “war cry” has its roots, according to most accounts, at Florida State University in the 1980s. Even though it negatively reinforced an inaccurate racial stereotype, other fan bases starting adopting it, including those of the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs . Minnesota baseball fans became all too familiar with the cringeworthy chant during the 1991 Twins-Braves World Series.

As popular as the tomahawk chop has been, all of us in a more-enlightened 2021 can agree with the sentiment of Finn Swanson, the young Kansas City football fan who wrote this to his team in a change.org petition: “It is offensive to Native Americans and should be banned.”

His letter was reported by Reuters in a story published last week. His Chiefs played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV Sunday.

Finn is far from alone with his feeling that the chop must be dropped.

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“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,” Vincent Schilling, associate editor of Indian Country Today, said in an AP story in January 2020. “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.”

To the Kansas City football team’s credit, it has cracked down on Native American imagery at its games like headdresses and face paint. It can target the tomahawk chop next, and not because a kid asked it to but because it’s the right thing to do.

Finn’s petition is the latest in mounting public pressure against team names and logos that are inappropriate — and that always were, even if many of us chose to look the other way.

Last summer, in the wake of protests for racial justice and equality, the NFL’s Washington Redskins dropped its team name, something its ownership had long vowed would “never” happen. In December, baseball’s Cleveland Indians announced it would find a new team name. It had stopped using its cartoonish Chief Wahoo logo and mascot in 2019.

In an editorial in response to the Washington Football Team’s decision, the Kansas City Star last summer called on its own team to drop its name in favor of something more unifying, less offensive, and that can be worn on jerseys with pride by players and fans alike.

“The question isn't whether all Native Americans find these symbols objectionable. The point is that some Native Americans do. That should be enough for the team and the city to reconsider their fondness for a chant and a costume that have no relation to the game,” read the editorial, which was republished in the News Tribune. “Times have changed. What made sense in the 1960s would never even be considered now. Others will claim political correctness run amok or another example of so-called ‘cancel culture.’ … Real strength is understanding the power of words and images and the importance of using them to promote unity, not division. Real strength is re-examining old traditions in the light of new circumstances.”

This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board.

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