Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue addresses members of the press at the Kansas City Chiefs 46th annual “101 Awards.” Photo by Reid Williams.
KANSAS CITY — The 46th Annual “101 Awards” were held recently by the “The Committee of 101″ to honor the NFL’s best and brightest. A press conference at the Westin Crown Center Hotel featured honorees: Arizona Cardinal’s head coach Bruce Arians (Coach of the Year), Seattle Seahawks Cornerback Richard Sherman (Defensive Player of the Year), Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell (Co-Offensive Players of the Year).
The event also featured former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as well as representatives from the Chiefs organization including team owner Clark Hunt and President of Operations Mark Donovan.
Kansas City Chiefs President of Operations Mark Donovan discusses the Native American Mascot controversy with Indian Leader Editor in Chief Charlie Perry. Photo by Reid Williams
There has been much controversy over the past year in regards to Native American mascots and appropriation. Chiefs President of Operations Mark Donovan took a moment to state the Chiefs organization’s stance on the issue, “We’re trying to create awareness and I think the best thing that we did was go to a group of experts in the community who understand the issues and have their take on it. We opened a dialogue and that dialogue led to a lot of awareness internally in our organization. We have a working group of eight people who are all from the Native American community and we’ve talked a lot about what the issues are and what we can address. We together try to attack the problem.”
“What was provided to us from that group was that we really need to try to educate people. We’ve talked about why certain things were really important to us as an organization. We really focused on the traditions of Arrowhead and how they impact each side. One of the things that came out was the drum that we use to start our day. We have a different Chiefs celebrity bang the drum to start each event. The group talked about the meaning of the drum and it was very enlightening to us to know the meaning of that. Knowing that now, we asked, how our organization can make this a better situation for both sides.
The group’s point to us was that all Native Americans want is to be shown respect. We really embraced that and brought out the group, where there was a blessing of the 4 directions, as well as a blessing for the drum. We felt better about it and the group we worked with felt better about it.
That was the first major step we took. The next major step we are taking is to create awareness for our fans. Every game from November on, we passed out information to our fans so they for example could understand the significance of a headdress. For many fans, when they put on a headdress or paint their faces they are unaware of how that affects (Native American) culture. With a little education and awareness we hope to provide the right information to help them make the right decision. We’ve had a great partnership with Native Americans, and we believe it’s about continuing this partnership, and moving forward together.”
Seattle Seahawks corner back and “101 Awards” NFC Defensive Player of the Year Richard Sherman addresses members of the press. Photo by Reid Williams
Seattle Seahawks corner back Richard Sherman in May of 2014 was quoted in “Time Magazine” stating: “We have an NFL team called the Redsk#ns. I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom-line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.”
Sherman took a moment today to reiterate his point, “Nothing has changed either way it’s the same as it was. I stand by everything I’ve said. Eventually something will happen. Sometimes it takes a while as we’ve seen through U.S. history in regards to race. Everyone deserves to be treated equally.”
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also offered his thoughts on the mascot debate. “The only thing I really know about this issue is what I read in the newspapers. I hope progress is being made and it needs to be made. Roger Goodell understands that and the owners understand that. There are no easy solutions in this particular area,” Tagliabue stated.
Arizona Cardinals Head Coach and “101 Awards” NFC Coach of the Year Bruce Arians addresses the press. Photo by Reid Williams.
Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians applauded the state’s Native American fan base and offered his opinion on the issue as well, “We have some of the greatest Native American fans in the world. Actually our Family Foundation tournament will be held at Talking Stick next weekend. They’ve really supported us tremendously. Gila River is a big Cardinal supporter. We’re extremely proud to have them as great fans.”
“I think this mascot issue is more up to them (Native Americans). If they find it offensive than get rid of them. If they don’t, and find it as a proud way to represent their culture, than keep the mascots, Arians continued.
John Learned spearheaded the eight member group that worked with the Kansas City Chiefs to create cultural awareness. Learned shared his thoughts on the issue:
“What is the Chiefs mascot? It’s a wolf. You ask a lot of Natives that aren’t informed and they think it’s an Indian on a horse. They haven’t used anything like that since 1989. In my talks with Mark (Donovan) I feel we need to honor and recognize Native Americans during the month of November. I think all NFL teams should promote Native American Appreciation Month.
I grew up in a time of Indian empowerment. My mother called me and said we’re going to get ‘Little Red’ off the sidelines at Oklahoma. Two weeks late it was changed. I think this is a new time of education and empowerment. Dominant society lacks an understanding because our history is not taught in schools. The Chiefs organization is working with Native organizations to make that change.
They are passing out educational literature at games and it’s making a difference. At the beginning of the year I asked my group to count the headdresses in Arrowhead Stadium, we counted 50+. At the end of the season we counted 6. Mark (Donovan) talked with me and said before that they never gave it a second thought but now the progress we’ve made is like a beacon to them and us.
At the same time if our kids self-esteem is broken down by logos and mascots than we may be the ones with a problem.”
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in “The Indian Leader,” the newspaper of Haskell Indian Nations University. Used with permission. All rights appear.