How an offensive sign kindled better relations between Chiefs, Native Americans

The sign at Sonic restaurant in Belton four years ago, on display on the day the Chiefs played at Washington, is how it started for John Learned.

“KC Chiefs will scalp the Redskins feed them whiskey send 2 reservation.”

The offensive sign was taken down after a few hours but not before a photo of it spread throughout social media, prompting an apology from a Sonic executive and a meeting in Kansas City of Native American groups.

Learned, founder of president of the American Indian Center of the Great Plains, was part of that gathering, and became the point person in subsequent dealings with the Chiefs. He wanted to know how the NFL organizatiton felt about the issue and saw an opportunity to create a relationship with the team that used imagery some Native Americans found disparaging.

Four years later, with the Chiefs playing host to the Washington Redskins — the two teams with the most negative brand equity trends from 2002-12, according to a New York Times study — both the Chiefs and Learned say progress has been made in Kansas City.

“We’ve looked for common ground,” Learned said.

Essentially, Native Americans told the Chiefs what they found particularly offensive, and the team listened and incorporated changes.

“We wanted to be educated on culture and…

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