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The Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians have both announced they are considering a possible name change. The Atlanta Braves have, so far, indicated they don’t plan to follow suit, but the team is apparently considering a different kind of change.
The Braves are currently holding discussions about their use of the “Tomahawk Chop,” according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
The “Chop,” which has been played repeatedly at Braves home games since the 1990s, has received criticism in the past as insensitive to native groups.
Tribes, Cardinals pitcher criticized ‘Tomahawk Chop’ last year
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee nation, criticized the chant and gesture during last season’s National League Division Series:
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.
The Braves responded to Helsley’s criticism by saying they would not play the “Chop” music and graphics while Helsley was on the mound and would not distribute foam tomahawks to fans during Game 5 of the NLDS, a comical blowout at the hands of the Cardinals.
Georgia native tribes have also criticized the gesture and called for its end.
The reaction to Helsley appeared to be a tacit admission that the “Chop” was indeed insensitive toward American Indians, and the Braves had pledged to continue talking with the Native American community once the season was over.
In a statement released over the weekend, the Braves said they have held meetings with their Native American Working Group and still have work to do. From The Athletic:
“The Atlanta Braves honor, support and value the Native American community. That will never change,” the team said in a statement released to media outlets over the weekend.
The Braves added they have held meetings with their Native American Working Group, which will collaborate with the team on “cultural issues, education and community outreach to amplify their voices and show our fans they are still proudly here.”
The statement concluded, “We have much work to do on and off the field, but the Atlanta Braves are ready to meet the challenge of these times.”
The Braves’ discussions about the “Chop,” as well as the potential name changes in Washington and Cleveland, come at a time of renewed pressure against institutional racism that has emerged in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
Origins of the ‘Tomahawk Chop’
While the “Tomahawk Chop” is defended by some as a tradition, the practice’s use by the Braves is younger than a dozen players on the team’s active roster.
The gesture popped up in Braves games when Deion Sanders, a former star at Florida State, joined the team in 1991 and grew popular among the fans at Turner Field. The song and gesture both have their roots at Florida State Seminoles football games.
Florida State, as well as the Kansas City Chiefs, both still use the “Tomahawk Chop,” though Florida State does so with the approval of the Seminole tribe it gets its name from.
Braves have done something like this before
As Rosenthal notes, the Braves have some experience in getting rid of an insensitive part of their franchise. The team dropped its “Chief Noc-A-Homa” mascot in 1985, though the stated reason was pay and performance disputes with the actor who played the mascot rather than sensitivity.
The Braves also ceased use of their “Screaming Indian” logo in the 1980s, though did try to bring it back on a spring training cap in 2013.
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