Now is the Time

On Sunday evening, February 7, 2021, the fifty-fifth championship game of the National Football League was played in Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, Florida. For the first time in history, the site of the Super Bowl was the home field of one of the competing teams.

Raymond James Stadium is the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1976, the newly-established team joined the National Football League and notoriously didn’t win a game its first season. The team was called the “Buccaneers,” a term that generally refers to pirates, but particularly references outlaws who operated in the Caribbean region, both on the sea and the land, from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s.

Buccaneering was a job. Famous buccaneers were from Africa, Algiers, Barbados, Bermuda, Colonial America, Denmark, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Wales.

“Buccaneers” was an appropriate choice for the team’s name, since the Tampa Bay area is located along the Gulf Coast. The other NFL team with a similar name is the Oakland Raiders, which is located along the Pacific Ocean.

To get to this year’s Super Bowl, the Buccaneers beat the Green Bay Packers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Washington Football Team. This latter team originated in Boston in 1932 as the “Braves,” but changed its name the following year to “Redskins,” a racist term that references a stereotyped skin color ascribed to all American Indians. In 1937, the team moved to Washington, DC, keeping its racist name. But finally, in 2020, under immense pressure from its financial supporters, the team dropped its racist name and used “Football Team” as a place holder until it can reach a final decision on a new name.

Instead of choosing a demonizing name, New Orleans anointed its team the “Saints,” in part because they were officially established on All Saints Day, but also because the famous Christian and Black spiritual song, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” is closely associated with New Orleans. Louis Armstrong, born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901, famously recorded a jazz version of the traditional gospel song in 1938, and ever since then, that has been the song of the city and, since 1966, of its professional football team.

In August of 1919, city leaders in Green Bay, Wisconsin, organized a professional football team. One of the organizers was Curly Lambeau, who worked at the Indian Packing Company, which had been established earlier that summer. He asked his employer to sponsor the team and the new company agreed to do so. Ever since then, the team has been called the “Packers,” even though the Indian Packing Company was absorbed by Acme Meating Packing Company in 1921 and eventually closed in 1943.

To get to the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers beat three teams in the playoffs. In the Wild Card Playoffs on January 9, 2021, the Buccaneers dispatched a team that only months earlier had finally dropped its American Indian-themed racist name. The following week, in the Divisional Playoffs, the Buccaneers vanquished the New Orleans Saints. Then in the NFC Championship game on January 24 at Green Bay, they won over the storied franchise named after the job of putting meat into tin cans.

The Buccaneers’ opponent in the Super Bowl was from Kansas City. That team had originated in Dallas, Texas, in 1960, and was called the “Texans.” The mayor of Kansas City in 1963, Harold Bartle, successfully wooed the team to relocate to his city. Bartles, a White man, had a track record of playing Indian. In 1925, he started a Boy Scouts-like society and gave it a stereotypical fictional American Indian-sounding name, Tribe of Micosay. Soon he was “Chief” Lone Bear of the Micosay Tribe.

After the football team arrived in Kansas City, it was named “Chiefs” in honor of Bartles’ fake identity. As its namesake was a purveyor of well-intended yet racist stereotypes and untruths, the team likewise promotes racist behaviors, such as wearing feather headdresses and chanting in monosyllables while doing a “tomahawk chop,” under the guise of honoring American Indians.

The Kansas City Chiefs and all other teams with names that are either racist or reference racist imagery, are burdened with troubling behaviors and images that should be abandoned. Like the Bucs, the Pack and the Saints did originally, and the Football Team did recently, Kansas City should finally choose an appropriate name. Now is the time.