• Local store gives snapshot of fan unrest

  • John Kilmer isn’t your typical Kansas City Chiefs fan.

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  • John Kilmer isn’t your typical Kansas City Chiefs fan.
    Kilmer, who’s been a season-ticket holder since 1989, has the same emotional investment as the thousands of others who file into Arrowhead Stadium each Sunday. But Kilmer also has a financial stake in the franchise’s success as the owner of a store that makes its bank predominantly off selling Chiefs and Royals merchandise.
    Kilmer is the owner of Sports Nutz on U.S. 40 in Independence, and in a roundabout way he’s become a central figure in the Save Our Chiefs movement.
    The Save Our Chiefs movement – or SOC – was initially launched by Marty McDonald, a Kansas City native and Chiefs fan living in Arizona, after the Chiefs suffered a 37-20 defeat to San Diego on Sept. 30. It started with a Twitter account that now has more than 69,000 followers and a Facebook page that has racked up nearly 13,000 likes.
    The group, which was formed to protest the current regime calling the shots at Arrowhead, has pooled money to fly banners over the stadium during games asking for the firing of general manager Scott Pioli and the benching of quarterback Matt Cassel. On Sunday, a segment of fans are planning to enter Arrowhead wearing black shirts as part of a blackout to display their displeasure with the franchise.
    Kilmer makes it clear that he’s not officially involved with SOC, but it was his store that printed the shirts. While Kilmer’s just a bit player in a much larger phenomena, his story provides a snapshot of just how fed up the Chiefs faithful has become.
    Kilmer’s sensitive to his role in all this and he’s been hit with some backlash. There’s been a few customers who see the blackout as a sign of disloyalty to the team and swear they won’t shop at his store anymore.
    “I was cautious with getting involved at all because I knew there could be negative tones,” Kilmer said. “But I wanted something done that was respectful.”
    Kilmer said some fans are upset that the shirts are black – Oakland Raiders colors. But he points out that the shirts have red and gold lettering. It’s also worth mentioning that the Chiefs license plenty of black apparel that sells well at Sports Nutz.
    “You’re wearing Chiefs colors into Arrowhead,” McDonald said, “you’re just wearing them on a black piece of clothing. It’s no different than if you wear a black Jamaal Charles jersey.”
    And while McDonald has made his feelings about Pioli clear, Kilmer notes that the blackout isn’t scapegoating any one person but rather sending a message to ownership that the fans are sick of supporting a floundering team.
    “We’re not some renegades that are just on a witch hunt,” Kilmer said. “We all want the same thing. I want the same thing that the guy sitting next to me who paid $100 for a ticket wants, and that’s a good product on the field that we can be proud of.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Kilmer reached out to McDonald about printing the shirts and they’ve been extremely popular. He said by gameday he expects to have printed more than a thousand and has filled orders from New York, California, Texas and Canada. But neither Kilmer nor anyone associated with SOC will get rich off this.
    Kilmer said he will make a small profit off the shirts, but not much considering how droopy sales have been with fan apathy at an all-time high. Ten percent of the sales will go to SOC and the group has also generated donations to fund flying the banners, but any leftover cash will be donated to a Chiefs-supported charity at the end of the year.
    There’s been no shortage of opinions about what’s wrong with the Chiefs as the franchise has turned into a national punchline during a 1-8 start. Some say it’s Cassel’s ineffectiveness. Others swear it’s all coaching. And there might not be too many public figures less popular in the metro area than Pioli and owner Clark Hunt.
    One thing just about every fan can agree on, though, is that staying the course isn’t an option.
    “I think you go down a road and when you realize it’s not working out, you do something about it,” said Chris Rutherford, a former Blue Springs resident who now lives in Arizona and recently stopped by Sports Nutz to pick up a blackout shirt during a trip home.
    “I think this team will wait out the bad over the good way too many times. It’s obviously gotten to a point where it’s time to make decisions about making adjustments and changing the direction of the entire team.”
    Fans will still tailgate on Sunday, although the parties will likely be less festive than during the glory years of the 1990s. And plenty will find their seat inside the stadium dressed in traditional red-and-gold jerseys, although the atmosphere is sure to be a shell of what it used to be.
    There will also be fans like McDonald, cloaked in black, still supporting the team they love. But also hoping to send a larger, more defiant message.
    “We bleed red and gold just as much as anyone else,” McDonald said. “And we’re not fair-weather fans. We’re not jumping off the bandwagon. We’re actually saying, ‘Hey look, we care so much that we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and get involved and do whatever we can as a fan base to express our displeasure over a lackluster product.’”