Since Taylor Swift attended last Sunday’s Kansas City Chiefs game, the path of her impact has been clear and undeniable. Jersey sales for Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Swift’s rumored boyfriend, have increased by 400 percent. Interest in Chief’s tickets has skyrocketed, according to StubHub. Swifties have even started giving each other crash courses on football and just what exactly a tight end is. But for Native American advocacy group ‘Not In Our Honor,’ and their founder Rhonda Levaldo, the Taylor-Swift-ification of the Kansas City Chiefs isn’t just a pop culture moment — they’re hoping it’s a chance to finally end the “cruel legacy” of the NFL franchise’s name.
“It’s not just at the gate. It’s on the radio. It’s on commercials. It’s in, you know, random areas, like people will start doing tomahawk chop at concerts, or at basketball games. It’s completely ridiculous,” LeValdo says. “For us that live here, in this community, we have to deal with it on a daily basis.”
Since 2005, LeValdo and members of ‘Not In Our Honor’ have protested Kansas City Chiefs games over the team’s name and famous game gesture: the tomahawk chop. In fact, LeValdo was outside the gate when they saw the police escort Swift’s vehicles into the stadium. And with attention firmly on the franchise, LeValdo wants Swift fans to know why they’re fighting, and then join in.
“Sometimes it takes an outsider to explain to the people on the inside why this is wrong,” LeValdo says. “So I’m hoping that’s the case, that maybe [Taylor Swift] can explain, as a non-native person, why it’s problematic. I know she does a lot of advocacy for the LGBTQ community. You know, and our voices are silent. It’s terrible. People don’t care.”
Major league sports teams with Native American imagery have long been a cultural and political flashpoint in the U.S. In 2005, a report from the American Psychological Association found that mascots based on stereotypes had a harmful effect on “the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people.” The group recommended the immediate retirement of all Native American-themed mascots, a cry echoed by large swaths of Native American advocacy groups. However, it took almost a decade until the racial reckoning of 2020, and the growing Black Lives Matter movement, for teams to respond. While most major league teams have at least acknowledged aspects of their traditions and names that are problematic or based on harmful stereotypes, only a handful, like the Washington Commanders and the Cleveland Guardians, have fully followed through with removing Native American imagery.
Among uncertainty about rebrands, the Kansas City Chiefs has maintained that their name will stay the same. A section of their website titled “celebrating American Indian heritage” asserts that the sports team was named after Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was Chief — and the name had “no affiliation with American Indian culture.” However, records from both the State Historical Society and the Kansas City Star note that Bartle received the nickname during his time at the Boy Scouts, where he built an honor society named the Tribe of Mic-O-Say, fashioned after an amalgamation of Native American imagery and traditions. The Kansas City Chiefs did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
LeValdo notes that while the Kansas City Chiefs has held up keeping their name by citing approval from other Native American groups, the end result is a franchise that knows its practices were hurtful and refuses to fully correct them.
“It’s really disrespectful and it’s tone deaf by Kansas City,” LeValdo says. “Because they have these things on their website, like, you know, ‘We’re against systemic racism.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, hello!’ What do you think you guys are doing right now?
So as interest in Swift and Kelce’s relationship, and as a byproduct, the Chiefs team, continues, LeValdo is asking Swift, and her fandom to step up and join the fight.
“I know a ton of our native people are fans of [Taylor Swift]. She reaches out to so many diverse groups of people. She could be an ally and help get that message out,” LeValdo says. “We were the original inhabitants of this land, and now we’re just thrown to the side and nobody cares about what we have to say. But we’re not going to go away. We’re still here.”