Saturday, November 27

The Braves’ tomahawk strike, explained: how the chanting and effort to rid baseball of ‘racist’ stereotypes began

Lately there has been a little reckoning in the world of sports.

The Washington Redskins have changed their name to Washington Football Team as they examine new naming options. The Cleveland Indians will be known as the Cleveland Guardians starting next year. High school teams across the country are also renaming their sports programs from other Native American terms.

One that has stayed in place has been the Atlanta Braves. Not just the name, but the tradition of the “hatchet chop”. The “chop” has been a part of the team’s home games for roughly three decades, with fans echoing a chant as they swing their arms back and forth in a chopping motion.

As the Braves take center stage in the World Series, the hatchet blow faces scrutiny on the national stage. Perception of the chant is divided between those who see it as camaraderie between Braves fans in the stadium and others who say it is a racist and inaccurate representation of Native American culture.

With the World Series now in Atlanta, Sporting News is taking a look at the history of the controversial chant and the efforts that have been made to get rid of it.

MORE: Sports Teams Retiring Native American Mascots, Nicknames

How did the tomahawk slice start?

There have been conflicting narratives about when the hatchet coup began in Atlanta. Some say the arrival of former Seminole Deion Sanders from Florida state to the Braves spurred him on. Others say it had been happening before that.

In truth, it is a bit of both. According to a 1991 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, organist Carolyn King said she had been playing the chop’s accompanying tune for two seasons prior because she felt it “sounded like it was with a team called the Braves.” He noted that it began to gain popularity in late May 1991 and that it went from a few people entering the industry to a large section of the crowd.

This is where Sanders and Florida State come in. In a 1991 South Florida Sun Sentinel articleMiles McRea, then the Braves’ director of promotion and entertainment, said that “the tomahawk-chop terminology is definitely Braves,” but noted that the singing itself began at Florida State.

During spring training in 1991, some Florida State fans began swinging their arms in a cutting motion, according to a 1991 New York Times article. That prompted more fans to pick it up again, and toy axes were brought to games throughout the season.

During the Braves’ postseason that year, the Times reported that foam rubber tomahawks were made and sold around the area for fans to carry and swing inside the stadium.

MORE: Why the Cleveland Indians Changed the Name to Guardians

Controversy and protests

In that October 1991 New York Times article, Braves public relations director Jim Schultz was quoted as saying the team had received complaints that the tomahawk was “degrading to Native Americans,” but defended it by saying that the team saw it as “a proud expression of unification and family.”

That was not a point of view shared by all. When the Braves made it to the World Series to face the Twins, the Native Americans protested in Minneapolis before the start of Game 1.

According to an article in The New York TimesRepresentatives from the American Indian Movement were hoping to meet with Braves and MLB officials to discuss the team’s name change and chill the chant of the fans. MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent said it would be “inappropriate to deal with that now.”

“I’ll pay attention to problems,” Vincent said, according to The Associated Press. “We will need more education and we will discuss it after the World Series.”

Protest organizer Clyde Bellecourt, national director and founder of AIM, said he wanted Braves owner Ted Turner to end “ignorant, stupid and racist behavior” and suggested that other names for the team would be considered as well. abhorrent. according to The Washington Post.

“I’m sure they wouldn’t call [the team] the bishops of Atlanta and deliver crucifixes to all who enter the stadium. What about the Atlanta Klan? They could hand out leaves to anyone who entered. They would never call the team the Atlanta Negroes, “Bellecourt said, according to the Post.” This is how we feel when we see the chants, the war paint, and the tomahawks. They (the officers and fans of the Braves) are totally lagging behind on Native American culture. Like everyone else, they have a John Wayne attitude about Indian culture, tradition, and history. . . and they are ignorant of the racism that is happening. “

The controversy has not gone away. It was unleashed again most recently in 2019 when the Braves and Cardinals met on the NLDS. Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said he felt the hatchet strike was “a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general.” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“It just describes them as these types of caveman type people who are not intellectuals,” Helsley said. “They’re so much more than that. Not that the whole pet thing offends me. It isn’t. It’s about the misconception of us Native Americans, and it devalues ​​us and how we’re perceived that way, or used as pets. Redskins and things like that. “

The Braves issued a statement in response to Helsley’s comments, according to the Post-Dispatch:

“We appreciate and take Mr. Helsley’s concerns seriously and have worked to honor and respect the Native American community over the years. Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country. We will continue evaluating how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the experience in the game, and we look forward to an ongoing dialogue with members of the Native American community after the season ends. “

The Post-Dispatch reported that fans were encouraged to sing ahead of Game 2 and that the foam tomahawks were still in effect. When the series returned to Atlanta for Game 5, however, the tomahawks were removed from their seats. according to a later Post-Dispatch report.

fake images

The ultimate in chop

The Braves didn’t have to worry as much about the tomahawk’s return to Truist Field in 2020, as fans were unable to enter the stadium during the regular season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, he returned at the beginning of the 2021 season. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves encouraged the chop to return during the season opener. The report stated that the team displayed digital images of the chop and encouraged fans to sing along during crucial moments of the game.

The display has continued throughout the postseason, and the gesture attracted attention particularly during Braves games. when the broadcast cameras have turned to show fans.

Ahead of the start of the World Series, IllumiNative, a Native American-led nonprofit that seeks to bring visibility to Native Americans and challenge the narratives surrounding them, said in a statement that the Braves and their fans “continue to use imagery, racist chants and logos. ” representing Native Americans in a dehumanizing and objective way, ” according to Native News Online.

“For decades Native communities have urged professional sports teams to stop using us as mascots, to stop reducing us to cartoons, and yet the Atlanta Braves have continued to turn a blind eye to our calls for justice and fairness.” the statement read. “Throughout the season, we saw Braves fans wear the ‘Tomahawk Chop’ and sing racist comments. This is unacceptable; these fan actions, encouraged by the team and its leadership, perpetuate the dehumanization of Native Americans and they reinforce stereotypes and prejudices among non-Native people. The Braves organization has caused harm and created an unwelcoming environment for Native peoples. “

At a press conference before the World Series, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the Braves’ name is different from others that have been changed, according to Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post.

“It is important to understand that we have 30 markets across the country. They are not all the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community,” Manfred said, according to Janes. “The Native American community in that region fully supports the Braves program, including Chop. For me, that’s the end of the story. In that market, we are taking the Native American community into account.”

On Wednesday, Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, issued a statement in response to Manfred’s comments, saying that the NCAI has made it clear to the Braves that “Natives are not pets and degrading rituals like the ‘tomahawk chop ‘that dehumanizing and harming us has no place in American society. “

“The name ‘Braves’, the tomahawk that adorns the team’s uniform and the ‘tomahawk chop’ that the team encourages its fans to perform at home games are meant to represent and caricature not just a tribal community but all Native peoples, and that is certainly how they are interpreted by baseball fans and Natives everywhere, “Sharp said in the statement.

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