Atlanta Braves – Case Against the Chop
Flashback to October of last season. The Braves and the Cardinals were in the midst of an entertaining NLDS when Cardinals rookie pitcher Ryan Helsley, an actual member of the Cherokee Nation, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said Friday at SunTrust Park. “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,” he continued in a conversation with The Post-Dispatch. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”"
The chop is a staple of Braves games. If you are a lifelong fan of the Braves then you’ve probably been chopping at games and in your own living room along with the crowd during crucial moments for years upon years.
In response to the claim, the Braves took action to reduce the chop. A Braves spokesperson told CNN the following:
"“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.”"
The Braves did not distribute the foam tomahawks before Game 5 and vowed not to lead the chop with music and graphics on the scoreboard while Helsely was in the game. They stated that they planned to engage in talks with Native American groups about their activities.
When asked about the future of the tomahawk chop, Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall said:
"“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.”"
The chop was even under fire in 1991 in the Braves worst-to-first run to the World Series. Ted Turner and Jane Fonda were prominently displayed on television chopping away, prompting Jane Fonda to publicly apologize.
"″I support them very much. But I’m sorry it offends them and I’m not going to do it anymore.”"
Not only was Fonda a public figure, but she actively participated in Native American Civil Rights protests. Her activities included an American Indian Movement’s (AIM) 1970 attempt to occupy Fort Lawson in Seattle, which resulted in her arrest.
Atlanta Braves were nearly the Atlanta Eagles
In a 1991 Sun-Sentinal article, Ted Turner says he even thought about changing the name from the Braves to the Eagles after acquiring the team.
In that same article, Terry Pendleton was asked about Native Americans taking offense to the tomahawk chop during the 1991 World Series, he responded by saying
"“I personally wish they wouldn’t take it personally, because it’s not a personal thing.”"
It doesn’t seem like a personal thing if you don’t understand the sacred ceremonies we are making a mockery of for our own entertainment. When we say things like that what we really mean is, “it isn’t personal to me.”
According to critics, the chop is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem that pervades American sports. The question is, how do professional sports teams get away with the use of an entire race of people as mascots?
How do they mock parts of their cultural heritage that are sacred in some cases, and get away with claiming we are honoring them?
Would more fans support the Native Americans if they knew more about their heritage and the oftentimes sacred symbols and ceremonies we turn into a cartoony form of entertainment?
In 2012, Slate.com’s L.V. Anderson wrote:
"Like most professional athletic appropriations of Native American culture, the tomahawk chop and the war chant have little basis in Native American history. There is no indication that Native Americans ever made the gesture known today as the tomahawk chop. Tomahawks were historically not only used as weapons by Native Americans but also revered as sacred objects."
When Helsley first made the remarks last season, like many of my fellow Braves fans, I was annoyed. I didn’t take the time to read about him or try and put myself in his shoes.
Here’s what I gathered about him from the St. Louis Post Dispatch. His grandfather was a full-blooded Cherokee and his great aunt works at an immersion school where the Cherokee language is still taught to keep it alive.
Helsley volunteers as a tutor at the school during the baseball offseasons. His mother works for the Cherokee Nation health clinics and his father services their heating, air, and electrical systems.
Imagine Cardinals rookie Ryan Helsley, a proud member of the Cherokee Nation, taking the mound in Atlanta in Game 1 of the NLDS with thousands of fans waving foam tomahawks (read above for significance) in his face and chanting in a way that lampoons so many things which are sacred to his people and his heritage.
Can you put yourself in his cleats for just a minute?