There has been a bit of math in the sports world lately.

The Washington Redskins have changed their name to the Washington football team as they consider new name options. The Cleveland Indians will be known as the Cleveland Guardians from next year. High school teams across the country are also renaming their athletic programs after other Native American terms.

The one that remained in place was the Atlanta Braves. Not just the name, but the tradition of the “tomahawk chop”. The “chop” has been a part of the team’s home games for about three decades, with fans echoing a chant as they shake their arms back and forth in a chopping motion.

As the Braves take center stage in the World Series, the tomahawk chop is under intense scrutiny on the national stage. Perception of the singing is shared between those who view it as camaraderie between the Braves fans in the stadium and others who say it is a racist – and inaccurate – portrayal of Native American culture.

With the World Series now in Atlanta, Sporting News looks back on the history of controversial singing and the efforts that have been made to potentially get rid of it.

There have been conflicting accounts of when the tomahawk chop started in Atlanta. Some say the arrival of former Florida state Seminole Deion Sanders to the Braves spurred him on. Others say it happened before that.

In fact, it’s a bit of both. According to a 1991 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, organist Carolyn King said she had been playing the melody that goes with the chop for two seasons before because she felt “it just sounded like it would go with a team. called the Braves ”. She noted that it started to gain popularity at the end of May 1991, and has gone from just a few people going in the choppy water to a large part of the crowd.

This is where Sanders and the State of Florida come in. In a 1991 South Florida Sun Sentinel article, Miles McRea, then director of promotion and entertainment for the Braves, said that “the tomahawk-chop terminology is definitely Braves,” but noted that the singing itself had started. to the state of Florida.

During spring practice in 1991, a few Florida state fans started swinging their arms in a hashed motion, according to a 1991 New York Times article. adopt, and over the course of the season, toy tomahawks were brought to games.

During the Braves’ playoffs that year, The Times reported that foam rubber tomahawks were made and sold in the area for fans to pick up and swing around inside the stadium.

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

It was not a point of view shared by everyone. When the Braves reached the World Series to take on the Twins, the Native Americans protested in Minneapolis before the start of the first game.

According to a New York Times report, representatives of the American Indian Movement had hoped to meet with Braves and MLB officials to discuss the team’s name change and the cooling of fan vocals. MLB commissioner Fay Vincent said it would be “inappropriate to deal with it now.”

“I’ll watch out for problems,” Vincent said, according to the Associated Press. “We will need more education and we will discuss this 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 seen as equally obnoxious, according to The Washington Post.

“I’m sure they wouldn’t call [the team] the Bishops of Atlanta and hand out crucifixes to everyone who walks into the stadium. What about the Atlanta Klansmen? They could distribute leaves to everyone who enters. They would never call the team the Atlanta Negros, ”Bellecourt said, according to the Post. “This is what we feel when we see the chants, the war paint and the tomahawks. They (officials and Braves fans) are totally backward academically when it comes to Native American culture. Like everyone else, they have a John Wayne attitude to Indian culture, tradition and history. . . and they ignore the racism that is going on. “

The controversy has not gone away. This was triggered again more recently in 2019 when the Braves and Cardinals faced off in the NLDS. Reliever of the Cardinals Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said he believed the tomahawk chop was “a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“He just portrays them as these kind of caveman type people who aren’t intellectual,” Helsley said. “They are much more than that. I’m not the one offended by this whole mascot thing. This is not the case. This is the misconception of us Native Americans, and it devalues ​​us and how we are perceived that way, or used as mascots. Redskins and stuff like that.

The Braves released 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 of the Land of the Braves. We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the in-game experience, and look forward to an ongoing dialogue with members of the Native American community once the season is over. “

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

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

He did return at the start of the 2021 season, however. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves encouraged the chop to return when the season opens. The report said the team posted digital images of the chop and inspired fans to sing along during pivotal moments of the match.

The display continued throughout the playoffs, the gesture gaining attention especially during Braves games when the broadcast cameras turned to the fans.

Prior to the start of the World Series, IllumiNative, a Native American-led nonprofit that seeks to give visibility to natives and challenge the narratives around them, said in a statement that the Braves and their fans “Continue to use racist images, chants and logos that portray Native Americans in a dehumanizing and objectifying manner,” according to Native News Online.

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

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

“It’s 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 this region fully supports the Braves program, including the Chop. For me, this is kind of the end of the story. In this market, we take into account the Native American community.

Manfred says the league views the Braves name as different from others that have changed: “It’s 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. ” (following)

On Wednesday, Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indian, released a statement in response to Manfred’s comments, saying the NCAI made it clear to the Braves that “Natives are not mascots and degrading rituals like the “Tomahawk chop” that dehumanizes and harms us has no place in American society. “

“The name ‘Braves’, the tomahawk adorning the team uniform and the ‘chop tomahawk’ that the team urges its fans to play in home games are meant to represent and caricature not only a tribal community,” but all indigenous people, and that is certainly how baseball fans and indigenous people around the world interpret them, ”Sharp said in the statement.

The National Congress of American Indians responds to Rob Manfred’s assertions about the Braves and the tomahawk chop: “Nothing could be further from the truth.

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