Following the Kansas City Chiefs’ final practice of training camp on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, owner Clark Hunt spoke with the press. Here are four things we learned from Hunt as the team makes its final preparations for the 2020 season:
1. It took “a lot of nerve” to sign the Patrick Mahomes contract
In early July, the Chiefs signed their Super Bowl MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a 12-year deal that could pay him over $500 million — and Hunt said he was involved in the negotiations.
“On all of our big contracts, I’m very actively involved with our staff — with Brett Veach and his team — in terms of working up proposals and where we want to go as we go through the process, said Hunt. “Obviously the timing was a big issue on this particular extension — not only because it was Patrick coming off the Super Bowl, but because we were dealing with a pandemic as well.
“I think you guys saw during the summer that there were very few big contracts done — and we just decided internally that we were going to move ahead. We’ve got a really special group of players here: a young core of players who just won a championship and have a chance to win, hopefully, several more. We just thought it was important to go ahead and get Patrick done — and later be able to get Chris Jones done and Travis Kelce extended.
“It took a little bit of nerve, I would say. There were definitely some days where I was like, ‘I’m not sure this is the right thing,’ because we didn’t know if we were going to have a season [and] we don’t know what the salary cap’s going to be next year. But we were able to construct contracts in a way that we’ll be able to navigate whatever happens.”
2. “Everybody is going to lose a lot of money” in 2020
As the chairman of the NFL’s Finance Committee, Hunt was also deeply involved in the league’s response and planning regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He said he is hopeful that within a year or two, the league will be back on firm financial footing.
“Well, no doubt about it: across professional sports, this is going to be one of the most difficult years ever — certainly in the last 40 or 50 years, there [hasn’t been] a year like it,” he said. “Pretty much everybody is going to lose a lot of money; there’s just no way around it.
“The forecasting for the contingencies has also been very difficult,” he continued. “I think you guys saw it as we worked through the summer. At times, there was a question about whether we would even have a season this year. If we had a season, [was] it going to be 16 games? Are we going to have fans in attendance? Who can have fans? Et cetera. There had to be a whole lot of contingency planning [and] a lot of preparation to be able to absorb the losses.
“In terms of the long term, I’d like to be an optimist and think that a year from now — certainly two years from now — we’re going to be past the pandemic. Things will be somewhat back to normal — or hopefully, all the way back to normal — so hopefully we can get back to where we were. But I think one thing that we’ve learned this year is to expect the unexpected; that’s just where we are. You’ve got to be prepared for it.”
3. Working with Native American groups has been “a learning experience”
While the events of the summer have brought the issue of professional sports teams using Native American imagery to the forefront — and have recently caused the NFL’s Washington franchise to drop their name — Hunt reiterated that the Chiefs have been working on the issue for years.
“I think going back seven years ago, when we started the dialogue with our Native American working group — here in Kansas City, that group represents approximately 30 tribes around the Midwest — it was a real learning experience for the organization,” he recalled. “I heard [team president] Mark Donovan the other day mention just how much he learned — how much we learned as an organization.
“We learned that the face paint and the headdresses were a big issue for the tribes. We started at that point trying to discourage our fans from bringing them to the stadium. We made some progress on that during the last six years — and of course, this summer, we took the next step, which is outright banning them from bringing them into the stadium.
“I think the important thing about the entire subject is how important the education has been. It’s something that’s important to the American Indians — both from a cultural heritage standpoint and just preserving their traditions — but it’s also a way of educating our fans that these things are offensive to them. So instead of just coming out seven years ago and outright banning it, we’ve had this education process that’s gotten us to the point we are today.
“We’ve now expanded our relationship beyond just the group in the Midwest that we’ve been working with. We’re working with the National Congress of American Indians. They represent over 570 tribes throughout North America — and we’ve had some really good conversations with them. They want us to expand our education; they want to work with us to take that to a higher level.”
Hunt also said that in these discussions with Native leaders, the franchise has learned that the name of the team (and its stadium) aren’t necessarily targets for change.
“We know the issues they care about,” said Hunt. “The name — and the name of the stadium — are not things that are high on their list. I don’t want to project what’s going to happen in the future, but I do know that we’ve got the right dialogue going on. These organizations know that we’re sincere — that we want to help what they want to do from an education standpoint.”
Hunt said that there will likely be more changes in what happens on game days, but that Native leaders have expressed support for the changes the team has made thus far.
4. “We just need to love our neighbor.”
It’s easy to think that the ongoing conversations about racial inequality and social justice are a recent thing. But as far as Hunt is concerned, this has been a subject the Chiefs have cared about for a long time.
“It’s not something that’s new to the Kansas City Chiefs — really going all the way back to the 1960s and 1970s,” explained Hunt. “My dad really encouraged the players to get out there and use their platform to make a difference in the community. A lot of those efforts over the decades have been focused on things that benefit the minority communities. We’re certainly more focused on that than ever.
“What I’ve really appreciated about the last couple of years is how engaged the leaders on our team are. I’ll take Patrick and Tyrann Mathieu as examples. They’re very engaged; they want to make a difference. They want to do things that are going to make our country better — things that are going to help us get along as a country.”
From Hunt’s perspective, it all comes from the example his father set.
“My dad set a great example for me and my siblings on a lot of issues,” he said. “And probably his greatest strength was how he treated people. He didn’t care where you came from, what your background was or what your race was. He treated everybody he met with respect and appreciation. That’s been a lesson that we’ve all learned. Just bringing it forward to what’s been going on with racial equality and social injustice, I think Andy Reid said it as well as anyone: we just need to love our neighbor. If we do that, this world’s going to be a whole lot better place.”