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Why the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop is Offensive & Needs to Go
Photo by Kevin Liles/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves are a truly embarrassing franchise, and I mean that in every facet of the word. They are historically bad in the playoffs — 2019 and 2020 proved that true once again (yes, I know they’ve earned a World Series berth in 2021) — but it’s the players and people who have run the organization that make it such a disgrace to the league and American sports in general.

I don’t need to harp on former Braves closer John Rocker, who wanted to fight a girl on Survivor and once made fun of nearly every minority group in an interview with Sports Illustrated. I don’t even need to mention Braves legend and Hall-of-Fame third baseman Chipper Jones, who once dehumanized immigrants and tweeted that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax to hundred of thousands of followers.

That’s not to say every player to don a Braves jersey is a bad guy. Freddie Freeman exists. That’s not even why I’m writing about this organization.

Rather, I’d like to talk about the “Tomahawk Chop” that Braves fans do seemingly nonstop at every home game. It’s time for the chant to go once and for all. Heck, it was time for it to go the minute they borrowed the insensitive gesture from the Florida State Seminoles.

Why the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop is Offensive

Think the chopping chant isn’t offensive and is a needed part of Braves history?

Think the Washington Redskins name isn’t a racial slur? (They’ve since changed their name to the Washington Football Team.)

Think Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo mascot isn’t derogatory to American Indians? (They’ve since ditched him and become the Cleveland Guardians.)

If you find yourself thinking being offended by these symbols and images is just being overly sensitive or whatever other excuse you come up with, and that rooting for a team of players that throws and hits baseballs for a living is more important than considering the opinions and livelihoods of people from a different race, let me introduce you to someone.

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St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley is a reliever. Ryan Hensley is also a member of the Cherokee Nation. He was born and raised in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and his family has deep roots in the Cherokee Nation.

He took issue with the chop after experiencing it firsthand while pitching in Game 1 of the 2019 National League Division Series against the Braves.

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general. 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 it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.

“That’s the disappointing part, that stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”

— Ryan Helsley, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Braves responded by saying they would not give out foam tomahawks to each seat for Game 5 and basically said they’d keep playing the Tomahawk Chop chant’s music except when Helsley was in the game.

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“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.”

— Statement from the Atlanta Braves

Right, because there’s no way he could hear or see anything when he was sitting in the bullpen. Oh, and it’s not like zero American Indians were watching a nationally-televised playoff baseball game.

Atlanta Braves fans, being Atlanta Braves fans, said screw it and started the chant without the music after the second pitch of the game.

By pitch No. 23, the Cardinals chased Atlanta starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz and led 4-0 in the first inning. Sixteen pitches later, St. Louis scored its 10th run of the first inning in SunTrust Park, a record for most runs scored in the opening inning of a playoff game in MLB history.

Sweet, sweet karma.

As if they hadn’t embarrassed themselves completely by this point, the Braves played the chop music later in the game. Not to mention the team’s postseason hashtag of choice is #ChopOn. Or that they’ve sold shirts literally showing fans how to chop. Either they don’t get it or they don’t care. Or both.

Georgia lawmakers and republicans didn’t show much compassion either. A few of them, including Rep. Trey Kelley, took to Twitter to say the blowout loss in the NLDS was karma for silencing the Tomahawk Chop.

Imagine caring that much about foam tomahawks.

What Cherokee Indians Say About the Tomahawk Chop

In discussions last year, Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and team president Derek Schiller said they reached out to Native American groups to talk about their name and the use of the chop.

“Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary,” a team statement said. “We will always be the Atlanta Braves.

“As it relates to the fan experience, including the chop, it is one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group.”

And here’s how Richard Sneed, Primary Chief of the Easter Band of the Cherokees (EBCI) in North Carolina, responded:

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been exploring a potential partnership with the Atlanta Braves for several months following discussions about the cultural sensitivity of the Braves’ Tomahawk Chop.  As a people proud of our own identity, we do not support cultural appropriation or any disrespectful representation of Native nations. We believe that candid, thoughtful conversations are crucial to educating leaders and bringing about positive change.

“As such, we have committed to working with the Atlanta Braves as they explore opportunities to represent Native Nations more appropriately.  I applaud the Braves’ willingness to engage in this effort and look forward to continuing to build the relationship the EBCI shares with them to present a model for how other professional sports teams can work with Native Nations in a respectful and constructive manner.”

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However, in 2019, Sneed told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it was time for the Tomahawk Chop to go.

Interesting…

History of the Tomahawk Chop

From their Boston Braves and Milwaukee Braves days, the Atlanta Braves have always been the Braves. But the Tomahawk Chop wasn’t incorporated until the 1990s, when the Braves underwent a dominant stretch of playoff appearances. The team borrowed the chant from the Florida State University Seminoles after Deion Sanders, who starred at FSU, played for the Braves. It’s now a staple at Braves games.

The Tomahawk Chop, as deeply rooted in the franchise’s history as it is, is offensive.

Why? Because Helsley said so. It’s that simple. As a white man, I don’t get to tell him he’s wrong and it’s not offensive. That’s how this works. That’s how we learn from each other. That’s how we coexist.

Helsley isn’t alone. The National Congress of American Indians, which advocates for and protects the civil rights, social justice and racial equality of all Native Americans, has been campaigning to eliminate “Indian” mascots since 1968.

“Rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples,” the NCAI website reads.

Now pair that with a Department of Justice analysis that states “American Indians are more likely than people of other races to experience violence at the hands of someone of a different race,” and you should see the problem.

The simple fix: Get rid of the Tomahawk Chop. Get rid of stereotypical mascots. Heck, if I’m the Braves I would just rename and rebrand the franchise. Pick an awesome animal like a dragon for your mascot and call it a day.

The Braves are in Major League Baseball’s biggest spotlight after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS to earn a berth in the World Series against the Houston Astros. There’s no doubt heated discussions will take place over Braves baseball’s team name and war chant.

This isn’t hard, Atlanta. Make the right call.

This post was originally published on October 14, 2019. We’ve updated it as the Braves are in the 2021 World Series.

MORE: Why Florida State Can Keep Using Chief Osceola & Renegade as Symbols

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Patrick covered the Florida Gators during the forgettable Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras before spending two seasons writing for Major League Baseball. He's an SEC homer and a baseball junkie who spends his days defending the Miami Marlins. When he's not glued to a TV, you can find him ...Read more
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