The Braves winning the World Series for the first time in 26 years was a major cause for celebration.
Between some grade schools getting the day off to fans gathering for the victory parade to students here on Tech’s campus singing and marching in the streets after the big win, fans erupted in celebration across Atlanta and beyond to treasure a victory that some thought they would never see in their lifetimes.
But when cheering turns to chanting and a crowd of mostly white fans proudly starts participating in the Braves’ infamous tomahawk chop, what was once a celebration of their favorite sports team turns into mockery of Native American people that needs to be put to an end.
The “chop,” as Braves fans call it, is part of a tradition where fans yell a “war chant” and swing their arms in a tomahawk chopping motion at key moments in the game as a way to rally team spirit.
Fans may not realize it, but this is problematic in many ways. For starters, it is dehumanizing.
Native Americans being a mascot for a sports teams likens a whole ethnicity to an ancient mystic race or even to animals which are both commonly used for sports team mascots.
When thousands of people, most of whom are white, collectively imitate and make fun of this group of people in the stands of a baseball stadium, it is insulting and humiliating.
Sadly, the Braves have a long history of disrespectfully using Native American imagery as part of the team’s “brand.”
In the 70s, the Braves had a live Native American mascot named Chief Noc-A-Homa who would perform out of a teepee beyond the outfield wall. A tomahawk was added to the Braves jersey and merchandise logo in 1990. And until 2019, foam tomahawks were placed in fans’ seats to encourage “chopping” throughout the game.
While most of this imagery has been done away with due to public backlash, the chop still remains and for whatever reason despite the tradition’s obvious racist connotations, the Braves do not seem to want to do anything about it.
Teams like Cleveland, whose baseball team recently changed their name and mascot from the “Indians” to the “Guardians,” have demonstrated that change is possible.
With that being said, it is quite puzzling that there is still a hesitation from the Braves to implement a top-down rebrand that does not harm anybody instead of continuing to knowingly dehumanize a community of people.
There are so many better ways to represent the rich culture of Atlanta through sports than to keep choosing to conform to historic racism that is long overdue for change.
The fans are not to blame here. Because of the team’s inaction, this motion has become so ingrained in the Atlanta Braves tradition that people do not even realize their participation in the outward projection of racism when they are cheering on the team with the chop. However, the chop is still in their hands.
If the Braves are not willing to make the first move, fans can make a difference by choosing not to chop and others will hopefully follow. Education is important to addressing the issue. The more people learn about the harmful repercussions of their actions, the closer we move towards chopping the chop once and for all.