ATLANTA—The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals returned to SunTrust Park for Game 5 of the NLDS Wednesday night. But unlike Games 1 and 2, they wouldn’t be playing in front of tens of thousands of foam tomahawks.
Fans who arrived at the stadium for the series’ first two games found tomahawks at their seats. But after Game 1, Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, expressed his frustration with the nearly three-decade-old tomahawk chop:
“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.”
The Braves have drawn criticism for their use of Native American imagery in recent years. The team has dialed back certain elements of its branding, including mascots deemed offensive, but the chop has persisted, a relic of the time Florida State star Deion Sanders joined the team in 1991. The team has regularly prompted the chop with drumbeats and accompanied it with onscreen effects. For a time, the team invited a ceremonial chop leader, a local notable figure, to lead the night’s first chant.
That will change, at least to some degree, starting Wednesday night. The Braves provided a statement to Yahoo Sports prior to the game:
“Out of respect for the concerns expressed by Mr. Helsley, we will take several efforts to reduce the Tomahawk Chop during our in-ballpark presentation today. Among other things, these steps include not distributing foam tomahawks to each seat and not playing the accompanying music or using Chop-related graphics when Mr. Helsley is in the game. As stated earlier, we will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience. We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”
Numerous other franchises across sports have faced the challenge of adjusting their brands as society has progressed. Some, like the Cleveland Indians, have opted to remove the mascots deemed offensive; others, like the Washington Redskins, have doubled down and vowed never to change.
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