Now that we live in a post-racist Washington NFL nickname world, the scrutiny on other teams, from professional to high school, using Native American imagery and names will only grow. There has yet to be any word from the Cleveland Indians after they said they were “reviewing” their name (and what’s to review when “Cleveland Spiders” is right there?), nor the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chicago Blackhawks cowered from real change and responsibility, by announcing they would keep their name and logo and hope that being named after a specific individual, as well their previous work with local Native American groups and future boosting of education would cover their asses. That falls apart when you read this from the actual Chief Black Hawk and deduce how he might have felt about the whole thing.
The Atlanta Braves today also opted for half-measures and holding a hands-over-ears position hoping this will all blow over. They announced they were keeping the “Braves” name but would “review” their fans’ use of the “Tomahawk Chop.”
One wonders what there is to review, and what it will matter, whatever they come up with.
It’s awfully convenient for the Braves to “review” this act because it’s not something they will deal with this season. Even if baseball completes this fun-sized season, there won’t be fans in Truist Park. By the time the 2021 season rolls around, the Braves are clearly hoping they won’t be under the hot lights of interrogation anymore. They can “review” it for nearly a calendar year if they so choose, giving them time to see which way the wind is blowing by next spring.
But even still, were the Braves to announce tomorrow that they will no longer sanction “The Chop” at their home games, what does that even mean? Sure, they can stop selling those foam tomahawks and banging those war drums, but wWill they eject fans doing it on their own? It’s not that hard to get thousands to do it at once without PA system prompting, as any fan who has been a part of a group mocking it when the Braves are on the road can tell you. Can you fathom a team ejecting thousands of people at once? Even hundreds? Dozens?
Would announcements over the public address system stop it from happening? Or would it cause fans to rebel and do it even more vociferously? Considering it takes a stiff breeze to get Southerners to feel aggrieved these days, you probably know the answer.
The Braves would face this problem even if they changed their name, as the more dedicated (or just drunk, unruly, and downright assholic) fans cling to their traditions. But an iron hand from the team concerning any Native American iconography used as mascots would at least set them on the road to banishing this kind of thing forever. A change of the name, a banning of any offensive merchandise from being worn in the park, a boosting of the new name and logo would be progress. A half-hearted effort meant to just quiet down the complaints for a short amount of time doesn’t do much.
Anyone in their right mind knows “The Chop” is just a mockery of a derogatory image of Native Americans as savage warriors. It’s a caricature, a rude homage to an outdated and derisive picture. It’s on the same level as putting your right hand up with “Hau, White Man” or wearing a headdress.The Braves are hoping an increased relationship with various Native American organizations and boosting of history and information will be enough for them, just as the Blackhawks are. What it amounts to, or at least it feels like it amounts to, is the “I have a Black friend so I can’t be racist” argument. No matter whom the Braves work with there will be many groups and people calling for an end to it all, and rightly so.
This country committed genocide against Native Americans, took their land and reneged on countless treaties, and we have the nerve to say, “hey, look we’ve honored you by naming a baseball team after you.” No.
The Braves, and the Blackhawks, Chiefs, Indians, and many others, know they’re in the wrong and are just hoping to avoid doing the work of choosing, marketing, and defending a new name and logo. As well they’re also all terrified of the backlash they’ll get from their more mouth-breathing fans. What the NFL team in D.C. is about to find out though is that those who shout loudest about the change will also be the first to buy the new hats, shirts, and jerseys. Just you watch.
The Chiefs will face the same issues, as their fans also have adopted “The Chop.” And we know how much more passionate and territorial football fans can get than the 20,000 or so that show up on a Wednesday night in Cobb County. But they know what the answer is, they know what’s right. It’s a shame they are holding out as long as they can before doing those things, though, even at a time when it’s become so obvious.