‘Dirty Kanza’ Cancels 2020 Event and Will Change its Name, While Other Brands Reckon with Their own Names

The DK gravel race cancels the 2020 event and promises to change their name, while other brands also reckon with potentially offensive marketing terms.
Photo: Dave Leiker / DK

After postponing the well-known 200-mile gravel race from the end of May until September, the Dirty Kanza is cancelling its 2020 event and will plan to return in 2021. The gravel race, owned by Life Time, recently began referring to itself as ‘DK,’ and promised a name change before next year’s event after calls from groups that the name of the race was offensive to Native Americans.

The DK waited for weeks to announce a change this year as athletes requested more information about whether or not they should travel. As the date for the first scheduled event has passed, and we creep closer to September, it’s clear that large events including races still won’t be recommended.

“Our team has worked hard for many weeks to determine if an event could take place in Emporia this Fall and we have been in regular communication with local community and health leaders to determine our best path forward,” said Lelan Dains, DK Race Director at Life Time. “While we hoped that something could be done, if even with an altered capacity, we now realize the safest and most responsible thing to do for our athletes, volunteers, and community is cancel the 2020 event.”

Registered athletes have four options: They can defer into the 2021 or 2022 event. They can donate their original entry fee to the Life Time Foundation, benefitting an Emporia school district lunch program and receive a guaranteed (but not free) entry into a 2021 or 2022 event. Or, they can collect a full refund, excluding processing fees.

In any case, the DK will see a rebranding and renaming in the coming months, even though Life Time doubled down against a name change just two-and-a-half months ago.

“This open letter is in direct response to recent activities on social media and elsewhere, which are designed to bring discredit to the Dirty Kanza event and force a change to the event name,” said DK in a statement on April 20 of this year.

“‘Dirty’ is not intended to be a negative term, but rather a badge of honor. We play in the dirt, and we are proud of it. Don’t come to this event wearing white shoes and white socks… because they won’t stay that way.”

“Numerous naming options were considered to describe the ‘where’… including ‘Kansas’ and ‘Flint Hills.’ In the end, it was felt that ‘Kanza’ paid homage to the region (the Kanza Prairie), to its rich history, and to all things associated with the region…including the Kaw Nation. Dirty Kanza is not unique in this practice, as there are over 150 corporations in the state of Kansas that use ‘Kanza’ as part of their name. This wide practice is evidence of the fact that ‘Kanza’ is synonymous with ‘Kansas.’

Jim Cummins, the “Chief Gravel Officer” of the DK says that they consulted with the Kaw Nation about the requests for name change at the time.

“Life Time and the Kaw Nation are proud to stand alongside one another as Dirty Kanza pursues its mission to provide life-enriching experiences to event participants and to build community.”

Cummins however, who co-founded the race in 2006, left the Life Time organization near the end of June after backlash from a social media post on his personal account. According to the Emporia Gazette, Cummins indirectly implied that the killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta Police Department was justified.

Following Cummins’ departure, it looks like the DK will go ahead with a name change after all and they aren’t the only ones thinking about what some of their marketing nomenclatures mean.

Ocoee Bikes, a brand of mountain and gravel bikes under the American Bicycle Group (ABG), will change their name after learning a deeper meaning beyond the area close to the eastern Tennessee mountains where they are based.

In a statement on the matter, Ocoee says that, “ABG CEO/President Peter Hurley was made aware that the name ‘Ocoee’ is also associated with the 1920 lynching of an African American on election day in Ocoee, Florida and the burning of that African American community, he felt the immediate need to erase any unknowing or accidental connotation by the brand of racial inequality. The 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots are relatively unknown and were highlighted as an example of African American history that needs to be elevated through education. On June 23, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a new law requiring that Florida education include events like the election day riots, and other lynchings and acts of racial violence that are currently not part of regular African American curriculum.”

ABG has renamed Ocoee to OBED. “The name is an homage to the scenic Obed River area — a source of awesome recreation activities including rafting, camping, and rock climbing — which runs right through our backyard here in Tennessee.”

Finally, Yeti Cycles has been called out this week for the use of the word “tribe” in their marketing and events. Yeti has long had an annual event called the Yeti Tribe Gathering, where Yeti owners celebrated their affinity for the brand. “The Yeti Tribe is a diverse group of freaks that share our devotion to owning and riding great bikes,” says a summary of the group on the brand’s website.

(photo: Sammy Stark)

Renee Hutchens, a Native American mountain biker started a petition this week calling for Yeti Cycles to stop using the word “tribe” for their events or in their marketing.

“Although the origins of the term ‘Tribe’ come from European colonization and dehumanization of non-European societies, in the United States, the term ‘Tribe’ is inherently linked to the genocide committed by the United States against the Indigenous communities who pre-date the existence of this country. Tribes have survived hundreds of years of violence and systematic erasure. Therefore, when non-Indigenous people use the term ‘Tribe’ to describe a group of people with a common interest, it belittles the history, experience, and unique political status of Indigenous people in the United States as tribal nations, that have inherent political sovereignty and the right to self-governance.”

Hutchens provides a lengthy explanation and history on the use of the word tribe in her petition. According to Bike Mag, Yeti Cycles president Chris Conroy has acknowledged the petition and feels that Hutchens’ concerns are valid and they are considering a change.