Exeter Chiefs to drop Native American-themed chant in club rebrand

LONDON -- English rugby club Exeter Chiefs will stop playing their "Tomahawk Chop" chant during games as part of a rebrand to move away from a Native American theme that had come under increasing criticism.

The chant has traditionally been played over the speakers on matchdays at the club's Sandy Park stadium but had been labelled as "degrading" by a major Native American organisation and is now being dropped in the club's latest step to change their identity.

While Exeter are keeping their "Chiefs" nickname, the club changed their logo in July and asked fans to stop wearing Native American headdresses to games. Exeter's "Big Chief" mascot was dropped in 2020 and Native American-themed names at the stadium bars have also been changed.

"Over the last three or four years people's attitude towards [the club's branding] has hardened, and so the time was right to change it," Exeter chief executive Tony Rowe told the Times newspaper in an interview published Thursday. "The world is changing and we have to change with it."

The chief executive of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) wrote a letter to Exeter last year asking them "to retire all of the Native 'themed' imagery associated with the mascot branding" of the club. The letter highlighted "fans' misappropriation of culturally sacred headdresses and facepaint, and the degrading 'tomahawk chop' rituals they perform during matches."

Opposing teams had also objected to the team's branding and had started asking Exeter fans not to wear Native American-themed clothing to away games.

Earlier this year, Exeter said their rebranding will instead be themed around an ancient Celtic tribe that encompassed a large area of southwestern England for centuries before the Roman occupation from A.D. 43.

Rowe, who helped the club come up with the Native American-themed branding in 1998, said fans will not be banned from wearing clothes with Exeter's old logo and theme during games.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of, it was 24 years of our branding, we've still got shirts and things around," Rowe said. "You can't expunge history, you can learn from it. We've got no intention of telling people they can't wear stuff with the old logo on it."

Exeter's opening Premiership home game of the new season will be against champions Leicester Tigers on Sept. 10.