The history of white supremacy in US sports culture is as old as the games, and the nation, themselves. Recent years have seen a push to change the names of the most egregious offenders, most notably the former name of the Washington Commanders. Yet some teams’ problematic names and histories have comparatively flown under the radar. Such is the case with the Kansas City football team. Radio host Rhonda LeValdo, a co-founder of the organization Not In Our Honor, joins Edge of Sports for a frank discussion on the racist history of the Kansas City football team, and why its name should be changed.

Studio Production: David Hebden
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden
Audio Post-Production: David Hebden
Opening Sequence: Cameron Granadino
Music by: Eze Jackson & Carlos Guillen


Transcript

Dave Zirin:  Welcome to Edge of Sports TV, only on The Real News Network, I’m Dave Zirin. This week, we are honored to speak to someone who wears many hats: Radio host, professor, past president of the Native American Journalist Association, and a founder of the group Not In Our Honor which protests the racist, cultural appropriation of the Kansas City football team. She was also a colleague of Lisa Lopez-Galvan, the radio host killed at the Kansas City Super Bowl parade. Her name is Rhonda LeValdo. Let’s speak to her now. Rhonda LeValdo, thank you so much for joining us here on Edge of Sports.

Rhonda LeValdo:  Yeah, no problem.

Dave Zirin:  Let’s start with a sober question that I need to ask you – Sober and somber – Your colleague, as I mentioned in the introduction, was Lisa Lopez-Galvan, the radio host killed at the Kansas City Super Bowl parade. Is there anything you would like to say about that or about the shooting that shocked the country?

Rhonda LeValdo:  It’s sad that it would happen at a thing that people were trying to have a good time at. It’s awful that happened. And my continued prayers for her family; Her kids lost a mom. And unfortunately, at something that was supposed to be a happy event.

Dave Zirin:  What has been the reaction, as you see it, of mayors, governors, and local politicians? Are we seeing anything hopeful from the political class following the shootings or are they shrugging their shoulders?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Missouri is very pro-gun so I don’t think anything will come of it. They’re very lax in their gun laws, so, unfortunately, nothing. Yeah, it’s terrible.

Dave Zirin:  We are talking about the Kansas City football team and what it means to the city. You spoke about the people filling up the streets for the parade and this takes us to your organization that you helped found, Not In Our Honor. Can you speak about how Not In Our Honor came about and what its mission is?

Rhonda LeValdo:  We formed in 2005 when Washington was playing Kansas City. We know there were previous protests done at Kansas City and we felt we needed to continue it on. At the time, I was with college students, not realizing when I came here to go to school that I would have to face this type of craziness with the Kansas City football team and the amount of being annoyed by fan behavior. So we felt we needed to take it on and start making sure our voices were heard and continued to be heard.

We continued on every year after that. We stepped it up after the unfortunate murder of George Floyd and then the BLM protests. We felt we could get some more support especially with the NFL trying to implement their racial injustice initiatives. Unfortunately, it’s fallen on deaf ears. Doing the #endracism in the end zone is tone-deaf to us. It’s difficult that we continue to do this.19 years later and still doing this. So we’ll see what happens.

Dave Zirin:  How do you respond to the argument, and I’m sure you’ve heard this a ton of times, for people who say, well, I understand why the name of the Washington team was so disgusting. It’s a slur. Why are you against the name of the Kansas City team? Why is that something that needs to be protested?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Well, it’s the cultural appropriation with the team and how they were founded by H. Roe Bartle who helped start a fake Native tribe called the Mic-O-Say. They continue to do Native American dances as a rite of passage and get these fake Indian names. I don’t think people understand that those dances mean something, they’re not something you just do. I know that they did one from my area where I’m from, from the southwest, and those are prayer dances. You’re not supposed to do those randomly, they mean something to us. They think they’re something crazy to do but it has a different meaning. So to us, it’s really disrespectful and rude. It’s not honoring us at all. With that, they got their names, Chief, from H. Roe Bartle who called himself chief of the Mic-O-Say. And if you come down to it, we always explain that a chief was a burden.

You took on your people, you took care of them, and I see Kansas City is not doing that. If you go to that area around the stadium, it is one of the poorest areas in Kansas City. Now they’re trying to get new stadiums. Well, what are you doing for those people that live there? They need help. It’s a crazy situation. It wasn’t a title, it was a burden, and they’re using it as a title, and misusing what it stands for. But also, the cultural appropriation that’s seen all over the world, banging the drum, doing the chop, all that stuff, wearing headdresses, it’s sad that they’re continuing these stereotypes. People believe in those stereotypes. It’s awful to have those put out again like we give a stamp of approval for that and we don’t.

Dave Zirin:  Has it changed since 2005 in terms of the response you get from people, particularly white people in Kansas City? What I’m trying to get at is, in Trumpist America, is it less people not having a thought about what it could mean to indigenous communities and more people almost taking pride in the racism itself?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Yeah, we do have some supporters that send us emails that they’re glad we’re doing it. But yeah, there’s a doubling down of people now because of the term woke and I don’t think they understand what that means. Cultural appropriation is not woke. That’s something totally different. So trying to explain that to people, as Native people, we weren’t allowed to be Native. We were taken away from our parents. We were taken and sent to boarding schools. A lot of our people died and it wasn’t allowed for us to be Native. We weren’t allowed to wear our clothes, to have our hair long, or even practice our ceremonies, but now it’s okay for white people to do that. That doesn’t make sense.

Dave Zirin:  No. I live in the DC area and there was a success in bringing together Black Lives Matter organizations and people who are protesting the Washington name and the ultimate success of getting them to change the name with pressure on corporate sponsors. And it certainly helped that the owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, was one of the most repulsive people in sports. Was your organization able to have success finding a common cause with Black Lives Matter or with the movement against police violence after 2020?

Rhonda LeValdo:  A little bit. There’s such a love of the team and Patrick Mahomes, so we’ve tried to reach out to him, but with nothing, of course. So it’s difficult for people to buy into that. They’re not understanding the historical issues that go on with these types of things that Kansas City does and they don’t understand how it affects us and affects our kids. So it’s a little bit more difficult.

Dave Zirin:  I’m interested in what you said before about the neighborhoods around the stadium. Would you describe Kansas City as being very economically polarized, polarized in terms of race and racism? How does power operate in the city?

Rhonda LeValdo:  You always have in any city, an area that’s the rich side and the more economically disadvantaged side. That area around the stadiums is not built up. There are no efforts to try and make it any better, but I wish they would because it’s dangerous. When we go protest over there, we know we can’t be there at the night games because the road there is pretty busy and it’s a little dangerous.

At one point, when we were protesting out there, somebody tried to cross the road and they were hit and they were killed trying to go to the game. So we know not to be out there when it’s dark because there’s no sidewalk or even a crosswalk for people to get across safely. I believe it’s almost five lanes of traffic.

Dave Zirin:  Then there’s NFL fans, alcohol violence. Yeah, it can get a little bit hairy at an NFL game. And I imagine if you’re trying to project politics into the team that everybody’s rallied around, you’re taking a real risk.

Rhonda LeValdo:  Right.

Dave Zirin:  Well, I appreciate your bravery on these fronts. It’s so important. You talked about starting the organization in 2005. What about the next generation of activists, in or around Indigenous communities, is this an issue that is connecting with them? Is this an issue that’s in the front of their minds in terms of political action?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Oh, definitely. We’ve had students in the past, and here where I live in Lawrence, who have brought on the issue of a town outside of Kansas City, a suburb called Shawnee Mission. So they had the Shawnee Mission Indians. The students here would have to play them in different sports and they would have somebody dressed up as the Indian princess and an Indian brave, and they would have them do the chop and crazy stuff to them. So there was a push from the students here in high school with the Native American Student Services Program to get rid of that imagery.

It went into a vote and they did finally get rid of it, which I was surprised because I know they had come after me and some of the people who lived in Shawnee Mission, for even speaking about it. But we’ve had a couple of schools in the outside area of Kansas City change their imagery because of that. So now there’s a bigger push to get that done, especially in high schools because there are so many high schools that have that Native imagery. Here in the state of Kansas, there’s a town called Liberal, of all places, Liberal, Kansas, and they’re known as the Redskins.

Dave Zirin:  Wow. Is there a push to get that changed in Liberal or didn’t you see –

Rhonda LeValdo:  No. They’re in southwest Kansas, which is a very conservative area.

Dave Zirin:  – The success though at the high school level, we have seen that around the country in terms of cultural appropriation. Does that give you hope? Why do you think they’ve been able to have success there?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Push from the students, understanding why this is wrong, and their voices being heard about it. I know that Native American students have to deal with it, it’s something that they shouldn’t have to deal with. They shouldn’t have to deal with those types of things. And it’s unfortunate, here, some of our students get rattled by people doing the chop at them. So it’s a weird situation. It’s not just at the games, it’s everywhere.

Dave Zirin:  See, I remember an incident about that in Wisconsin after Trump was elected. It feels like the heat on a lot of these hyper-racialized confrontations, particularly emanating from white students, feels more intense to me. But what also feels more intense to me is that you have this new generation that’s not going to put up with the racist crap that previous generations were willing to put up with.

Rhonda LeValdo:  Right, definitely.

Dave Zirin:  That gives me hope. You’ve been generous with your time. I was thinking last night, I wonder what Rhonda would say if she was granted a sit-down with the Hunt family. If you had 45 minutes to sit across a table from them, what you’d say, what your strategy would be?

Rhonda LeValdo:  We were part of a movie called Imagining the Indian, so I would suggest they watch that if they don’t want to put up with meeting Natives to understand. But to watch that film because it gives a historical perspective of why these things are wrong and lays out multiple reasons why and multiple images of why this is wrong. So if anything, I’d say watch that. But we’ve seen photographs of them in headdresses and headdresses are earned, they’re not given out freely. So I know that Mr. Hunt and his sons were part of Mic-O-Say as well. If anything, coming from that background of explaining that those dances aren’t just things to do, those are prayers, those are sacred things and convey meaning, not just for you to dance around and feel good about yourself. That’s not what that was for.

Dave Zirin:  Just a side note, one of the producers of Imagining the Indian is Kevin Blackistone, the sports writer and television commentator. Maybe he’s a friend, maybe reach out to Kevin, I’ll ask him to send it to the Hunts or get it in Patrick Mahomes hands. Do you think Mahomes is so powerful that if he, as an individual, said this name needs to change, it could change?

Rhonda LeValdo:  I think he could. We played the film here in the Kansas City area and when the film went online, so it’s available on Apple and Amazon and anyone can watch it, we were going off of that strategy saying, hey, if you don’t understand this and you want it explained, watch this film, you could rent it.

Dave Zirin:  Fantastic. But before you go, is there anything else that you’d like to add about the issue, about the work that you do, and about how people can support it?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Yeah, they can go to our Not In Our Honor website, and it’s notinourhonor.com. And they can look at the different things that we have there. Kansas City Indian Center is also part of our group, so they’ve been there. They’re going to be celebrating their 50th anniversary this weekend, so we’re having a celebration. They’ve been there for 50 years, but Kansas City Football does not support them.

You have the main group that is supporting Native people in Kansas City, why aren’t they working with them? Because they know they’re against what they do. They provide different things for the community in Kansas City, and it’s open to the public. So, if anybody wants to support what we do, we always ask to donate to them because it impacts the Native community in Kansas City.

Dave Zirin:  The movie is, can you say the name of it again, the Blackistone film, Imagining the Indian, is that correct?

Rhonda LeValdo:  Yeah. Imagining the Indian.

Dave ZirinImagining the Indian, that’s the film that people need to see, and the organizations mentioned, people should support. Go to the website without question. Rhonda LeValdo, thank you so much for joining us here on Edge of Sports.

Rhonda LeValdo:  Thank you.

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