This debate first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Rugby World.

Face-Off: Is Exeter Chiefs’ branding appropriate?

Hear both sides of the debate on the branding of one of England’s biggest clubs.


Exeter Chiefs claim their use of Native American imagery is not offensive and respects their culture. This falls into the logical fallacy: “If I don’t mean it to be offensive, it isn’t.”

Many Native North Americans find appropriation and misuse of their culture offensive – it defies efforts to reclaim their identity after centuries of discrimination. Using Native symbols in sports is maybe the most noticeable example of ‘Disneyfication’ – creating stereotypes that enforce misunderstanding and prejudice.

Chiefs repeatedly ignore voices that ask them to reconsider the branding.

Their nickname predates the official adoption of the branding in 1999. How hard would it be to keep the name but base any imagery on something more relevant – such as the ancient Celtic people of Devon, the Dumnonii? English rugby wants to appear inclusive and plans to expand into the US, but their branding complicates both aims. Nobody thinks Exeter and their fans are intentionally offensive, but they’re on the wrong side of history and it’s time to change.

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Passionate fan in rural Devon

It’s a tradition in the South-West for clubs to call first XVs ‘Chiefs’. Thus we have Sidmouth Chiefs, Barnstable Chiefs and, of course, Exeter Chiefs.

Since professionalism arrived, an instantly recognisable logo is required

to identify teams nationally. In Exeter’s case, what better than the striking profile of a proud Native Chief?

There is certainly no intention to o end the sensitivities of the Native American Nation. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” go the immortal words of William Shakespeare.

I applaud and respect the pride and rich traditions of the Native North Americans, their culture and their history. I believe the good people of Exeter rugby club feel the same. Dee Brown’s book, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, epitomises the brutal manner in which 19th Century American expansionism abused, mutilated and killed Native Americans. Surely the current Nation has more important issues of consternation?

Please stop trying to rip the heart out of an honest, proud and decent club.

This first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Rugby World.

This article originally appeared in Rugby World’s September edition.