Of the thousands of Bills’ Backers who ventured to this Mid-Western city for the National Football League’s Game of the Year on Sunday between the Chiefs and Bills, I may have been the only one there for other reasons than the game.
Sure, I attended my first road game as a true Bills Backer—an honorary member of the 417 Bills Mafia, founded by Matt Puccio, a former Buffalo Bisons photography intern in 1989-90 when I was the club’s General Manager.
However, I took the occasion of the Bills game to fulfill a bucket list wish of visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in downtown Kansas City and go on a tour with its amazing president Bob Kendrick, along with visiting the accompanying Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, a magnificent facility managed by the Major League Baseball Royals’ Charity Foundation.
I met Kendrick last year during Black History Month when Bob Costas recommended him as a guest podcaster for The Seasons of Buffalo Baseball 1857-2020 book to discuss Henry Aaron signing his first professional contract in Buffalo in 1952 while playing here that summer with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League.
Kendrick told some amazing stories about the Negro League and the struggles those players had breaking into Major League Baseball because of the color of their skin but also how much fun they and the fans had when they played their games.
The Bills visit to KC was the perfect reason for me to take Kendrick up on his offer for a tour and the opportunity to meet with his staff about having one of its traveling museums make a stop in Buffalo’s African American Corridor next summer. The meeting with the Royals Academy allowed me to bring back contacts to help with the free inner-city baseball and softball program operated by the Willie Hutch Jones Educational and Sports Program in conjunction with MLB’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) program.
On Saturday afternoon, Kendrick took me and others, including Buffalo’s Lamont Williams and his friends, on a two-hour tour of the amazing museum, located at 18th and Vine in a complex that includes the city’s Jazz Museum. The success of these two museums excites me about the opportunity for Buffalo to hopefully open a home for the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Music, and Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fames.
Leaving the museum, I was overwhelmed by Kendrick’s vivid description of the racism these great ballplayers dealt with during their careers and what they went through before MLB’s white owners allowed Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier and join the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
The feelings of what Kendrick and others are doing to break the racial divide in society today, through baseball and its museum in Kansas City, stuck with me. However, what I experienced the next day inside Arrowhead Stadium made me want to leave the stadium before the game even started because, for the first time, I heard and saw the Tomahawk Chop live.
A long-time client of Billoni Associates is J.C. Seneca, founder, president and CEO of Tallchief Territory, home of Native Pride Truck Plaza on the Seneca Nation in Irving. J.C. is an amazing historian of his Native American and Seneca culture and through him and his family I have experienced the reverence around their healing circles, the mental challenges many on the nation deal with every day because of what their families endured with Native American Boarding Schools from the mid-17th century to the early 20th centuries with a primary objective of “civilizing” or assimilating Native American children and youth into Euro-American culture.
I get more disgusted with the more I learn about what occurred on Indian territories in Canada and United States regarding those schools, including those on Seneca land in Buffalo, Irving, and Salamanca.
Another area of stress among our Native American neighbors, and J.C. Seneca, are sports teams with Indian symbols as their nickname and brand. Leading the way of insults to them is the Tomahawk Chop, accompanied by its distinctive cheer.
“I find the entire chant and chop disgusting and insulting to all of our people,” Seneca said. “I know they have tried to have these brands changed in the past but maybe now it is time to call for the owners of these professional and college teams to follow what many high school, college and professional teams have done. A process needs to be started to change these brands.”
History shows the Chop, and “War Chant” began when Deion Sanders played football for the Florida State Seminoles in 1984. When the two-sport star joined MLB’s Atlanta Braves five years later, FSU fans in the stands would start the chop and “War Chant” when “Prime Time” would walk to the plate.
The Chop and Chant is currently being used by the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Florida State University, and the Exeter Chiefs of the English Rugby League.
It has long been criticized by Native Americans as making fun of its culture and being a reference to the former practice of scalping. Tribes protested the Braves use of it prior to a 1991 World Series game in Minnesota. During the 2019 National League Division Series between Atlanta and St. Louis, Cards’ relief pitcher Ryan Helsey, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was asked about the chant and chop. “It depicts Native Americans as Cavemen-type people who are not intellectual,” he said.
That prompted the Braves not to hand out foam tomahawks, playing the chop music or showing chop graphics when the series returned for Game 5. The Braves promised to evaluate its practice after that series, and would continue discussions with the Native American community. Nothing changed and in July 2020, Atlanta faced mounting pressure after the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins announced they were discussing brand changes. The Braves have announced no new name change.
In 2016, Native American groups asked the Chiefs to stop doing the chop and they also did the same for the Exeter Chiefs but to no avail. In late 2019, the editorial board of the Kansas City Star newspaper called for cessation of the “Arrowhead Chop,” noting opposition from Native American Tribes and stated the practice stereotypes and dehumanizes Native Americans. The Chiefs said they would continue discussions with Native Americans in the area.
The Kansas City Chiefs have largely escaped the hottest embers in the national debate over American Indian mascots and imagery in sports. Their name does not evoke a slur like the former Washington Redskins, and their mascot is not a red-faced caricature like Chief Wahoo of the former Cleveland Indians.
The Chiefs have tried to appease the Native American by discouraging fans from dressing in Indian regalia and asking broadcasters to refrain from panning to those who disregard the request. The team makes informative announcements about Native American history and tradition during some games, and a group of Natives hands out literature at the stadium. The team sometimes invites Native people to bless the drums that are ceremonially beaten before games. I did hear before Sunday’s game something about the drums being blessed by a Native American tribe.
The Chiefs have shown little appetite, however, for preventing their supporters from doing the chop.
Dean Seneca, CEO and Founder of Seneca Scientific Solutions+ and an Adjunct Professor at the University at Buffalo, said of the Tomahawk Chop and Chant at sporting events: “It’s a mockery to our Indian culture.”
Prior to the start of Sunday’s Buffalo Bills epic victory over the Chiefs a scoreboard graphic and public address announcement gave details of Arrowhead Stadium holding a Guinness record for the loudest stadium in the world.
Personally, I thought it was just another hype to encourage fans to make noise. The 73,586 red-clad loyal Chiefs’ followers (minus a few thousand Bills’ fans) did not need scoreboard graphics to encourage noise. They just cheered. And cheered. And cheered louder. And then when they some celebrity or former player start pounding the war drum in the far end zone before the game and at the start of the second half, those fans began the tomahawk chop with their chants, and the sound was deafening.
I was seated in the upper deck and if it was loud for me there it had to be unbearable for the Bills offense which made Quarterback Josh Allen’s heroics at the end of both halves even more impressive as the Bills found a way to quiet the raucous crowd with 64 seconds to play when they took a 24-20 lead.
Once Bass kicked the extra point after Dawson Knox caught Allen’s laser pass in the corner of the endzone and Taron Johnson intercepted Patrick Mahomes with 51 seconds remaining to avenge last season’s heartbreaker loss in the final 13 seconds here of the AFC playoff game, the former friendly KC fans to the thousands of Bills Backers, became downright ugly in their comments as they quickly filed out of the stadium.
Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney, a huge Bills fan, said sweet revenge is in the final numbers if you subtract 51 seconds remaining after the interception from the 64 seconds that gave the Bills the lead. The result—13 seconds.
Hope to see you in Orchard Park in January, KC faithful. Bring your blankets and get ready to SHOUT with us.