Lily Gladstone Screams Racism Over Chiefs' and 49ers' Team Names

John Simmons | February 20, 2024
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“Killers of the Flower Moon” lead actress Lily Gladstone thinks both teams that played in Super Bowl LVIII should be ashamed of themselves because their nicknames are offensive to Indians.

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers last week to win their second consecutive title. It’s not surprising Gladstone would criticize the Chiefs’ name - we’ve seen this argument before from countless other people. And not only does Gladstone hate the team name, she hates the tomahawk chop gesture that Chiefs fans use at games.

“And then the Chiefs. There are many ways that you could interpret the name ‘chief,’” she said in an interview with Variety.  “It’s not just the name that bothers me. It’s hearing that damn Tomahawk chop. Every time, it’s a stark reminder of what Hollywood has done to us, because the Tomahawk chop directly ties to the sounds of old Westerns where we were not playing ourselves, or if we were, we were merely backdrop actors. It’s great to love the game and your players, but it still hurts.” 

Let’s start with the name argument. The Chiefs got their name in 1963 to honor Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, who helped get a football team to his city. Bartle was commonly referred to as “Chief.” So there’s no cultural appropriation in the origin of the name.

Since then, the team has obviously used Indian imagery to enhance the branding of the team. And guess who’s not offended by these changes? Indians!

A group called the “Indian Community Working Group” said that because the Chiefs have worked to make their marketing more honorable to Indian culture, the franchise should not feel obligated to change its name. Oh and by the way, they’re not offended by the tomahawk chop either.


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So Gladstone can forget about trying to frame the nickname or that gesture as offensive. But what about the 49ers? This argument is far less common.

In that same interview, Gladstone blasted San Francisco for their name choice:

“Honestly, you could hold both teams accountable,” Gladstone said. “The 49ers are based on the California Gold Rush, which was an incredibly brutal time for California Indians.”

This time, she actually got her history right. The 49ers indeed did get their nickname because of the people who came to the area during the California Gold Rush in 1849. Gladstone was also right in saying that it was a brutal time for Indians, as over 250,000 Indians died after the settlers arrived. (Of course, they were dying by one another's hand long before white folks showed up.)

But just because Gladstone got some facts right still doesn’t make her argument valid.

People remember the gold rushers in large part because of their pioneer spirit, and because they helped transform and expand the city of San Francisco. That’s why the team got their name, not because they felt like mocking the tragedy the Indians experienced. Nuance matters a lot in this conversation.

If you make time in your day to complain about sports teams using Indian imagery in their logos, you should probably pick up a hobby - and let the rest of us enjoy our sports teams in peace.

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