The Atlanta Braves are supposed to be discouraging the “tomahawk chop” celebration at home games. Or, anyway, that’s what commissioner Rob Manfred told the Washington Post back in February, that the Braves had “taken steps to take out” the chant. But they’re not discouraging it, not really—the Braves were still selling “tomahawk chop” instructional t-shirts in their team store within days of Kevin Blackistone’s fawning column, which is the exact opposite of discouragement. And fans are still doing the chant, with the standard musical accompaniment, at Braves home games, during these very playoffs.
This continued use of the “tomahawk chop” is notable, beyond the usual reasons, for what it means to a specific player on the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta’s opponent in the NLDS. Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was taking the mound Thursday when one of these chants broke out, and though it wasn’t necessarily directed at him, he explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he feels the use of the celebration is “disrespectful” and “devalues” Native Americans:
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said Friday afternoon 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 Braves responded to Helsley’s concerns via a statement, which notably makes no mention whatsoever of Manfred’s insistence that the team is actively working to “take out” the chant. Instead, they insist they “have worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years,” and “will continue to evaluate how [they] activate elements” of their “brand” going forward. From the Post-Dispatch:
“We appreciate and take seriously the concerns of Mr. Helsley and have worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years. Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country. We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the in-game experience, and look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community once the season comes to an end.”
There’s being powerless to stop asshole fans from doing what assholes do, and then there’s using the public address system to blare a musical prompt for a disrespectful fan display literally while a member of the group being stereotyped takes the mound. Just spitballing, here, but perhaps Manfred’s leadership on this matter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.