Exeter Chiefs have retired their ‘Big Chief’ mascot but will retain their name and logo following accusations that the club’s branding is racist towards Native Americans.
A board review was launched after more than 3,700 supporters signed a petition for the club to change its ‘harmful imagery and branding’. The mascot was ditched as a ‘mark of respect’.
The club engaged with sponsors, fans and the Native American community.
‘Content provided to the board indicated that the name Chiefs dated back into the early 1900s and had a long history with people in the Devon area,’ a club statement read. ‘The board took the view that the use of the Chiefs logo (which depicts a Native American) was in fact highly respectful.
‘Over the years we have had players and coaches from around the world with a wide range of nationalities and cultures. At no time have any players, coaches or their families said anything but positive comments about the branding or culture that exists at the club.
‘The one aspect the board felt could be regarded as disrespectful was the club’s mascot “Big Chief” and as a mark of respect have decided to retire him.’
Activists set up a petition calling for the 150-year-old rugby union side to change over its ‘harmful’ impact on Native Americans.
Their claims were echoed by modern American history professor Rachel Herrmann from Cardiff University, who lashed out at fans who wear merchandise to matches.
But supporters of the Devon club have set up a counter petition as they desperately hold on to the club’s nickname, which dates back to the 1930s.
Exeter’s directors are today reviewing their official branding at a board meeting, with many fearing they will bow to pressure.
It comes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has seen protesters target allegedly racist names, symbols and landmarks.
One petition is titled Asking Exeter Chiefs to drop its harmful use of Indigenous Peoples’ imagery & branding.
It says the club’s theme is ‘on the wrong side of history’ in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A post reads: ‘There is no place in a predominantly white British environment for appropriation of Indigenous Peoples’ imagery that has no relation whatsoever to the history of the club, or the city.
‘The Chiefs brand dates back to 1999, a decision that was not taken with racism in mind, but one that is now sat increasingly awkwardly at the pinnacle of English rugby.’
It adds: ‘The stylised Chief on the club’s crest, the ”Big Chief” mascot, the headdresses and tomahawks adorning the supporters, and the ”Tomahawk Chop” chant are all examples of cultural appropriation of the Indigenous Peoples who were all but wiped out by white European settlers and who still suffer extreme examples of racial prejudice today, across the world.’
Ashley Green, who created it, told the BBC earlier this month: ‘There is a lot of momentum gathering, hopefully on both sides of the Atlantic, and Exeter Chiefs really can’t ignore it.
‘They have to do this proactively and of their own accord. We just want to be as proud of the club off the pitch as we are of the team on the pitch.’
Dr Herrmann agreed, criticising the Premier League leaders for evoking ‘Britain’s forgotten imperial American past’.
She told Ruck: ‘I think changing [Exeter’s] name would be the ultimate step but I don’t know whether that is likely to happen.
‘I would at least like to see an engaged discussion between the team and Native American groups that could better explain why the name might be offensive.’
She also slammed fans who wave tomahawks, wore Native American headdress and war paint at matches for evoking a history of settler colonialism.
Exeter officially adopted the name and logo in 1999, but supporters have used it as a nickname since the 1930s.
It is thought to derive from a Devon tradition of club first teams in the county being referred to as ‘Chiefs’.
Sportsmail reported this month the side had never previously received a complaint about its branding prior to the recent campaign.
Thousands of fans rallied to defend their club’s theme, with a counter petition called ‘The Chiefs representation of an American Indian is about respect and honour to them’ set up.
It said: ‘The usage of the Native American in the Exeter Chiefs logo and brand is to honour and respect their cultural beliefs.
‘Exeter Chiefs fans wear their replica shirts and merchandise with pride of their team, and all that goes with it.
‘The Chiefs have a huge, dedicated and very loyal following who all do the ”chop” with pride.’
It added: ‘We would all love everyone to share our belief and not see it with any offence.’
Ian Dunstan, who made the counter petition, said: ‘How could a club with so many fans from so many cultures ever market something that was racist?
‘You can see the Chiefs logo across the world. I have seen people wearing it in Kenya, Dubai and Montreal.’
Another supporter added online: ‘You woke snowflakes find everything these days offensive.’
The backlash has come as historical symbols, names and landmarks are being targeted in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Protesters tore down a statue of former politician and salver trader Edward Colston on June 7.
On the same day a memorial to the country’s greatest prime minister Sir Winston Churchill in London was defaced with the words ‘was a racist’ written on its plinth.
It prompted a wave of statues being targeted with graffiti or being attacked during protests.
Some statues, including ones for Nelson Mandela and Sir Winston, had to be covered up to be protected from vandals.
The Topple the Racists campaign launched a comprehensive list of statues it wanted to see removed as it claimed the names behind the monuments held racist beliefs.
It led to Oriel College at Oxford University voting to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a colonialist politician in southern Africa in the 19th century.
PM Boris Johnson wrote last month: ‘We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history.
‘The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations. They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong.
‘But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.’
Exeter have not publicly commented on whether it will change its name, mascot and logo and will not until the board has met.