Atlanta Braves: Keep the name, lose the Tomahawk Chop ... maybe

Atlanta Braves: Keep the name, lose the Tomahawk Chop ... maybe

Leave the gun, take the cannoli. That quote from The Godfather cycled through my thoughts while reading about the decision made by the Atlanta Braves to keep their team name. A common-sense compromise is being reached. Good for them.

The cancel culture that dictates lives in 2020 doesn’t hesitate to move beyond free speech or tearing down statues in the public square. It’s everywhere and that includes the names of sports teams. The Atlanta Braves, however, is swimming against the tide. The team sent out an email to season ticket holders to announce that there will be no name change. The organization is reviewing the celebratory gesture of the Tomahawk Chop.

While citing “respect for the Native American community”, the team “will always be the Atlanta Braves.” I’m so happy about this that I may do a Tomahawk Chop in the privacy of my own home. I’m not even a Braves fan (it’s the Astros for me) but I do love to watch baseball as a distraction from everyday life. It is good to see a sports organization show some spine and keep its name intact. The letter to the ticket holders explained the process of how the final decision was made. As you can read, the decision wasn’t made lightly or with any disrespect intended.

The Atlanta Braves honors, respects and values the Native American community. As an organization, we have always drawn strength from our diversity and respect for everyone. That will never change.

We have had an active and supportive relationship with the Native American community for many years. Last fall, we furthered this relationship and pledged to meet and listen to Native American and tribal leaders from many areas, including the Eastern Band of the Cherokees (EBCI) in North Carolina. As a result, we formed a cultural working relationship with the EBCI and have also formed a Native American Working Group with a diverse collection of other tribal leaders to collaborate on matters related to culture, education, outreach, and recognition on an on-going basis.

Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary. We have great respect and reverence for our name and the Native American communities that have held meaningful relationships with us do as well. We will always be the Atlanta Braves.

As it relates to the fan experience, including the chop, it is one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group. The chop was popularized by our fans when Deion Sanders joined our team and it continues to inspire our players on the field. With that in mind, we are continuing to listen to the Native American community, as well as our fans, players, and alumni to ensure we are making an informed decision on this part of our fan experience.

Integrating learnings from our meetings with the Native American tribal leaders, we are working together to elevate Native American culture and language on a continuous basis. Activations include a permanent exhibit inside the ballpark honoring Native Americans, designing merchandise and other ways to support indigenous language, and partnering with Native American content producers to showcase the positive impacts Native American tribes and tribal leaders have had on our history and the community. Some of these activities are new and some have been on-going for a long time. We are committed to having a strong connection with the Native American community, which includes showcasing important past, present, and future aspects of their culture.

Sounds reasonable, right? Cancel culture has about ruined watching sports as a fan for me and for millions of other Americans. I watch sports to escape politics and culture, both of which I write about on a daily basis, so the last thing I want is for sports to be politicized. Yet, here we are. Especially in 2020, during a time of the coronavirus and economic collapse, we all need a break. Unfortunately, the virus is doing its own damage to that escape by canceling game schedules and perhaps whole seasons of sports. So, I’ll take good news where I can get it.

The decision on the Tomahawk Chop hasn’t been made but I imagine if the organization decides to do away with it, that decision would be easier to accept than a name change. A name is an identity, the Tomahawk Chop is a gesture introduced in the 90s. Braves fans aren’t the only fans to use the Tomahawk Chop – fans of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Florida State Seminoles also do it.

Last week the Cleveland Indians released a statement about their own name change debate: The organization is “committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.” Again, it is good to see a team that is not consumed with trying to be all things to all people and not succumbing to knee jerk reactions that leave large segments of the population dissatisfied.

If something must go, leave the name, take the Tomahawk Chop.

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