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Opinion: MLB, club won't budge on Atlanta baseball team's nickname, but here's why I won't use it.

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HOUSTON — The caricatures on their jerseys were blatantly racist, so it was changed.

Their mascot was offensive, so it was booted.

The headdress and face paint were insulting, so the team strongly discouraged it.

We’re not talking about the Washington Football Team.

This is about the Atlanta baseball team in the World Series.

You know, the team that says it no longer encourages fans to do the "tomahawk chop," and stopped passing out those foam hatchets and removed the Florida State University marching band music.

Instead, there’s a drum beat to accompany the tomahawk chop that is now mostly a hand motion. The stadium lights go out at Truist Park during each pitching change, with fans whipping out their cell phones, turning on the flashlights, and chanting for everyone to hear.

Apparently, as long as St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is not around, the tomahawk chop is not supposed to offend anyone.

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told the St. Louis-Post Dispatch in 2019 when the Cardinals were playing in Atlanta. “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 about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. …

“There have been schools who in the past 20, 30 years have changed their mascots. I don’t see why professional teams are so far behind on that.”

Atlanta fans do the chop during Game 1 of the NLCS.
Atlanta fans do the chop during Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Washington Football Team did it. Cleveland's baseball team is doing it next season, becoming the Guardians. The Atlanta baseball team, however, has said it has no intention of changing.

Talking to reporters before Game 1 the World Series on Tuesday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear the league doesn't intend to pressure Atlanta – and even lauded the organization.

“I think it’s important to understand that we have 30 markets in the country,’’ Manfred said. “Not all are the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community. The Native American community in that region is fully supportive of the Braves’ program, including the chop.

“For me, that’s kind of the end of the story.’’

While I can’t stop the tomahawk chop or make Atlanta change its name, what I can do is not acknowledge the nickname.

In recent years, I have tried to avoid using Atlanta’s nickname in columns.

I find it offensive, and after talking and listening to Native American leaders, friends and associates, it only fortifies my belief.

Copy editors have occasionally changed it in my copy because until now this has been my private stance.

Several readers picked up on the name appearing in my articles during Atlanta’s World Series run, and after talking it over with my editors, I have decided to explain my stance here and make more of a concerted effort to keep the name out of my columns.

This doesn’t mean I dislike Atlanta by any means. I have the utmost respect for the club and the class and dignity of Henry Aaron lives and breathes throughout the organization.

I just hate its nickname, believing it’s racist and offensive, and stunned at the hardened stance club leaders have taken.

MLB: Commissioner standing down on Atlanta's tomahawk chop, nickname

THE QUESTION EVERYONE ASKS: Why does Joc Pederson wear pearls?

When you dare bring it up, Atlanta will offer to put you in touch with Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who has a working relationship with the team.

They’ll tell you they created a Native American Working Group “with various local and nationwide leaders to partner with and collaborate on matters related to culture, history, education, outreach, and recognition.’’

They will sell a T-shirt written in Cherokee syllabary, and donate proceeds to the New Kituwah Academy and Cherokee Speakers Council.

Sorry to break the news, but Sneed is hardly speaking for every Native American. Atlanta’s name may be fine for one tribe, but deeply insulting and offensive to another.

Atlanta fans do the chop during Game 4 of the NLDS.
Atlanta fans do the chop during Game 4 of the NLDS.

“You can say you’re working with my tribe, but that doesn’t mean you’re talking to everybody in my tribe, or talking to the entire leadership,’’ Dr. Natalie Welch, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and professor at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon, told USA TODAY Sports this summer. “There’s not even a consensus from our own tribe about this. When they speak about having support from a tribe, it doesn’t mean it’s unanimous support.

“I have the utmost respect for my tribe and the others having sovereignty of those relationships, but I do think it’s used as a shield as teams, saying, 'We have this group saying it's OK, that should be enough.’

“That’s a copout.’’

The “Screaming Indian,” with a mohawk and one feather in his hair, and Chief-Noc-A-Homa mascot, who sat in an outfield teepee and breathed fire during games, mercifully disappeared.

But, oh, that "tomahawk chop" still lives on – as loud as ever.

Perhaps the chop will go away once Atlanta changes its nickname, but "traditions" in the South have a bad habit of sticking around, no matter how many folks are offended.

Atlanta sent a letter to season ticket holders that its nickname will be here forever.

It’s their prerogative.

It’s also mine not to use their nickname.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Atlanta baseball team's racist nickname, tomahawk chop must go