Chief Zee with a fan at FedEx Field on January 10, 2016
Zema Williams (1941 – July 19, 2016), better known as Chief Zee, was a well-known fan and unofficial mascot of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. Dressed in a faux Native American war bonnet, rimmed glasses and a red jacket, Chief Zee began attending Redskins games in 1978. He and other local sports personalities are featured in a number of television commercials for Eastern Motors, a Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area car dealership.
Born in Georgia, Williams worked as a sharecropper and picked cotton as a youth. He later drove a truck, when he got a draft notice in 1960. Two years later, he completed his military service at Fort Riley, and returned to driving trucks. By 1968, he was a car salesman in Washington, D.C.
Williams first showed up in costume at RFK Stadium on September 10, 1978. In 1983, Chief Zee attended a game against the Eagles at Veterans Stadium. After taunting the Eagles fans following their team's 10-point loss to the Redskins, he was attacked, suffering a broken leg and torn original costume, leaving him hospitalized. He returned the next year to Philadelphia but after a woman threw a beer in his face, it was his last time.
On August 9, 2008, Williams set down his signature prop, a toy tomahawk, while he was signing autographs at the Redskins' preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. When he turned to retrieve it, it was gone. The 12-inch tomahawk has a slender wooden handle with a rubber blade, and appears in many photos of Williams since he started attending Redskins games over 30 years prior. By August 28, 2008, Chief Zee's tomahawk has been returned to him with the help of Redskins tight end Chris Cooley who got a call from someone that said they had it. He swapped a signed jersey for the tomahawk.
In his later years, Williams lived on Social Security and had difficulty walking. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins purchased the scooter that he used. Williams also faced eviction due to not being able to keep up with his rent, but several fans used a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough to pay both back rent and enough ahead that the situation would not arise again.
Williams died in his sleep on July 18, 2016.
- November 7, 1985 was declared "Chief Zee Day" in Washington, D.C.
- In 2000, Visa and the Pro Football Hall of Fame selected the biggest fan of each of the then-31 teams and placed them in an exhibit in Canton. He was the fan chosen for the Washington Redskins.
Some consider Williams' portrayal of American Indians to have been offensive. His use of a stylized headdress was often referenced as the reason for offense, as the headdress is a sacred, central cultural item for many tribes. Chief Zee proudly had people refer to him as "My Injun", which was found to be offensive by many Native Americans.
- "Chief Zee Gave His Life to Redskins.....Maybe the Skins Can Help Save His". Retrieved on 2007-11-11.
- "Eastern Motors Ad on YouTube"
- "Another Eastern Motors Ad on YouTube"
- "Another Eastern Motors Ad on YouTube"
- Wise, Mike (September 3, 2013). "Chief Zee's time as Redskins' unofficial mascot is nearly over". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
- "Super-Fan Chief Zee's Heartfelt Comfort to the Enemy". Retrieved on 2007-11-11.
- "Washington-Philadelphia". dataBse Football.com.
- "Redskins fan sidelined". washingtontimes.com. July 17, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
- McKenna, Dave. "Chief Zee, Washington's Naive, Aggressively Racist Mascot, Is Dead". Deadspin. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
- "Marissa Newhall - Names & Faces". Washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
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- Matt Terl (April 21, 2016). "Unobstructed View: Pigskins Fans Lend a Hand to the Man Behind Chief Zee". The Washington City Paper.
- Stabley, Matthew (July 19, 2016). "Redskins Superfan Chief Zee Has Died". NBC Washington. NBC News. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
- http://www.bluecorncomics.com/2009/10/debating-chief-zee.htm. Retrieved March 26, 2010. Missing or empty
- "How Chief Zee Could Change the-History of Washington Football". Archived from the original on February 19, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
- Milloy, Courtland (21 October 2009). "On the sidelines, the sad symbol of a sorry tradition". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
- "Law Enforcement Repatriates Eagle Feather War Bonnet to Standing Rock Sioux". Fws.gov. 1999-11-04. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
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