EDITORIAL: THE ‘TOMAHAWK CHOP’ HAS TO GO
The debate about controversial nicknames and stereotypes has returned to Atlanta, where the baseball culture there has embraced an offensive chant. The MLB franchise — and/or MLB itself — must step in and end it now.
Atlanta may have just won a World Series, but the Major League Baseball franchise has some work to do in the offseason. Specifically, the organization must figure out how to deal with the racial insensitively that has surrounded the ball club for decades.
Atlanta’s appearance in the 117th Fall Classic, which concluded Tuesday night, renewed awareness of a debate surrounding mascots and culture that has gone on for years. Specifically, the team name, the Braves; the logo that features a Tomahawk; and the offensive “Tomahawk chop” that debuted with Atlanta’s appearance in the 1991 World Series, have all come under fire by some groups, and rightfully so.
While an argument could be made that the team name “Braves” is an endearing tribute to the culture surrounding American Indians’ way of life, that doesn’t make it OK.
And there is no argument in support of the Tomahawk being used as a symbol of both the Atlanta baseball franchise and American Indians as a whole, and certainly none in support of the chant that is frequently heard at Atlanta home games.
That is clearly the most offensive of the controversial trifecta — Braves, Tomahawk, chant — and it has seeped into other professional franchises, including the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, it could be heard during the broadcast of this week’s Monday Night Football game as Kansas City hosted the New York Giants.
While the “Tomahawk chop” is obviously intended to unite the fans in support of their team, it is, at worst, mocking behavior, even if it is unintentional. Native American songs and chants are among the most sacred of indigenous people’s behaviors. They are a form of worship, of healing, of reverence and of pride, and are often accompanied by dance and dress that honors an entire culture.
Some Native groups and advocates are calling for Atlanta to stop encouraging the chant from its game time rituals because it a racial stereotype, but Major League Baseball has pushed back. According to recent reporting by CNN, Commissioner Rob Manfred recently defended the tradition, saying that the larger Atlanta area is “wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that’s the end of the story.”
But the commissioner’s response is obtuse and short-sided. If there really is an outcry from people to whom the chant is personal and offensive, Major League Baseball and the Atlanta Braves organization both have a responsibility to dive deep into the matter and respond accordingly. That’s what led the Washington Football Team to abandon it’s highly offensive nickname and Cleveland to, first, discountinue the characature image of an American Indian, and most recently, abandon the nickname, Indians.
This is not “cancel culture” as many on the opposing side claim. This is human decency. Native Americans who are offended should have the last say here. In the words of Rob Manfred — that should be the end of the story.
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher