MLB commissioner Rob Manfred defends Braves’ name, ‘tomahawk chop’ chant from accusations of racism

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Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has voiced his support for the Atlanta Braves’ name and the fans’ ‘tomahawk chop’ chant, both of which have been criticized as offensive to Native Americans.

Speaking ahead of Game 1 of the World Series between the Braves and Astros in Houston on Tuesday, Manfred cited support from Georgia’s Native American community on the matter. Previously, in July of 2020, Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk and team president Derek Schiller said they spoke with various Cherokee leaders who remained in favor of the name’s use.  

‘It’s important to understand that we have 30 markets around the country,’ Manfred told reporters Tuesday. ‘They’re not all the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community. The Native American community in that region is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. And for me that’s kind of the end of the story.

‘In that market, taking into account the Native American community, it works.’

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Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has voiced his support for the Atlanta Braves' name and the fans' 'tomahawk chop' chant, both of which have been criticized as offensive to Native Americans

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has voiced his support for the Atlanta Braves’ name and the fans’ ‘tomahawk chop’ chant, both of which have been criticized as offensive to Native Americans

Atlanta Braves fans doing the "Tomahawk Chop" during a 2016 Game at Turner Field

Atlanta Braves fans doing the ‘Tomahawk Chop’ during a 2016 Game at Turner Field 

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A fan holds a sign stating "the chop is racist" during the ninth inning in Game One of the World Series during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday in Houston

A fan holds a sign stating ‘the chop is racist’ during the ninth inning in Game One of the World Series during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday in Houston

Manfred then reiterated his belief that he believes the club had the backing of local Native American groups around Atlanta.

‘Way before this became an issue, Atlanta cultivated a relationship with the Native American community which was very helpful in terms of making decisions like the two that have been raised.’

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The Braves are among the last holdouts using Native American branding in professional sorts after both the Washington Football Team (nee: Redskins) and the Cleveland Guardians (nee: Indians) agreed to change their names in 2020. (The Guardians’ name change will take place in 2022)

There are many differing opinions on the Braves’ name and the tomahawk chop.

The National College of American Indians, for instance, has supported ‘the elimination of race-based mascots, logos, symbols, and stereotypes’ for years now.

Leaders from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Cherokee Nation have also called for an end to the chop and its accompanying chant. 

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Atlanta Braves fans perform the Tomahawk Chop during a game at Turner Field in 2013

Atlanta Braves fans perform the Tomahawk Chop during a game at Turner Field in 2013

The fans do the chop early on during Game 3 of the NLDS between the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers on October 11 at Truist Park

The fans do the chop early on during Game 3 of the NLDS between the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers on October 11 at Truist Park

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In the wake of Braves legend Hank Aaron’s death last January, some fans called on the team to replace the name with ‘Hammers,’ his nickname.

‘The renaming serves two important purposes: 1) It honors an icon who represented our city with grace and dignity for more than half a century, and 2) It removes the stain on the city of having a team name that dishonors Native and Indigenous people, especially given one of the greatest tragedies in American History, the Trail of Tears, began in the region the team calls home,’ read the petition.

Former Braves centerfielder Dale Murphy, who played in Atlanta after Aaron’s retirement, actually began calling for the change as early as 2018.

‘Always felt ‘Hammerin’ Hank’, ‘The Hammer’ was one of the coolest nicknames ever,’ Murphy tweeted over two years ago. ‘The ‘Atlanta Hammers’? Love it!’

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The Braves have steadfastly resisted calls to change their name, saying they view it as a tribute to Native Americans rather than a slur.

But the team did take steps during the 2019 playoffs to downplay symbols of its nickname after St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley – a member of the Cherokee Nation – said he found the team’s ‘Tomahawk Chop’ chant offensive.

‘I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,’ Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2019. ‘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,’ he continued. ‘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.

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‘That’s the disappointing part,’ he added. ‘That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.’

In the wake of baseball legend Hank Aaron's death, some fans called on his former team to drop its controversial name, the Braves, in favor of his celebrated nickname, the Hammer

In the wake of baseball legend Hank Aaron’s death, some fans called on his former team to drop its controversial name, the Braves, in favor of his celebrated nickname, the Hammer

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