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The Atlanta Braves have been “in conversations” about the Tomahawk Chop at their games since at least the 2019 postseason, when it came under scrutiny from an opposing pitcher, Ryan Halsey, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. Despite the obviousness of the racism that performing the chop entails, the Braves have hemmed and hawed their way through discussing it, pushing off actually doing anything substantive about it — like, say, getting rid of the practice — and wasted everyone’s time in the process.
More than just the chop needs to go for the culture of racism to be removed from the Braves and their fans, but it would at least be a start and a sign that they’re actually trying. Instead, we get Atlanta, in response to Washington’s NFL team removing the literal slur of a name from the franchise, that they won’t be changing their name, and oh, the only reason there is no chop this year is because there are no fans in attendance to perform it.
Now, we’ve got another NFL team somehow ahead of the Braves’ curve, as the Kansas City Chiefs have made changes to what they’ll be allowing fans to dress like at their games. The Chiefs are a franchise sitting on the same level as the Braves, in the sense they’re able to claim a comparatively innocuous name to what Washington was flaunting, but that any Native name whatsoever allows a racist culture to flourish with headdresses, redface, and so on. That will not be the case any longer at their games: the Chiefs are banning the wearing of headdresses at their games, and, “any face paint that is styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions will be prohibited.” Fans will be asked to remove face paint, such as redface, before getting through security.
That’s not going to solve every issue with the culture — the Chiefs themselves say they’re still working out how to handle the “Arrowhead Chop,” but it’s still a real step forward for dismantling some of the racism that comes from “honoring” Native Americans at pro sports games.
It should be pointed out that the Chiefs aren’t exactly free from sin here either just because they’re finally coming around to making changes. They admit in this press release that they’ve been in conversations with “a group of local leaders from diverse American Indian backgrounds and experiences” since 2014. Six years ago. It took six years of conversations for the Chiefs to finally relent and say, “alright, fine, no more headdresses or racist face paint, you’ve got us there.” They got there, which is a miracle in and of itself considering, but it took six years. If the Braves are on the same trajectory, then we’ve got a lot of newsletter entries on this subject in our future.
It’s been said before, but it remains true: the holdup in all of these cases is money. The Chiefs felt that they would lose money by restricting what fans can wear to their games. They haven’t figured out how to remove the Arrowhead Chop just yet, and while some of that is logistical in the sense that it’s difficult to ban every one who decides to go out on their own and do it even without the musical cues to guide them or whatever, some of it is also that they know there are fans who like it, and those fans give the team money.
Obviously, the Chiefs now feel like more money is going to be lost to them if they don’t do something about the culture of racism in their fan base, in the same way Major League Baseball, the NFL as a whole and, I don’t know, your favorite frozen waffle brand all decided that Black lives matter at the same time earlier this year. The Braves aren’t there yet. Atlanta is willing to entertain that maybe something is awry, that change might be needed, but they’re still in the planning and development stage. Forming an exploratory committee to decide if a committee is necessary to investigate whether steps need to be taken.
It’s not just the Braves who are waffling, of course. The Cleveland Indians removed Chief Wahoo from their uniforms — but apparently not from their available undershirts — but are yet to change their name or take the same kinds of steps the Chiefs have. And more is absolutely necessary, as Nick Francona recently detailed for GQ, as has been written about by Nick Martin, as these local Indian groups have assuredly been telling the Braves and Chiefs and Indians and anyone else “in conversation” with Natives for years now.
Washington changing their team name was a positive — not a ledger-balancing positive, but still, a step forward and a move that implies there was an issue with the old name. That likely helped spur the Chiefs on to ban headdresses and redface, which in turn could push the Braves or Indians toward banning the same, or maybe even trying to one-up Kansas City in the quest to appear at the forefront of all of this. Fear of lost revenue and fear that an organization is being left behind and will be seen as backward seem like the most powerful motivators going for these franchises, regardless of the sport, so there could be some additional positive coming from the Chiefs’ move. None of it will come as fast as it should have — that train left the station a long time ago — but if a combination of public pressure and shame at missing out on positive PR is what it’ll take to get things done now rather than never, then so be it.
- Ginny Searle wrote about Thom Brennaman’s practiced and derisive use of a homophobic slur, which he was caught doing on a hot mic earlier this week. You should read that, obviously.
Brennaman’s act — like he had no idea the word he practically sneered with disgust was a harmful one — would be embarrassing in a vacuum, but given his job is literally relaying information and narrative with his words and how he says them, is more infuriating bullshit than anything.
Good on Jeff Passan for apologizing for directly quoting Brennaman in a tweet, by the way. Unlike a certain announcer, he was sincere when he asked for forgiveness for his mistake.
Trevor Bauer sucks, man.
- I’ll likely write about the other parts of the above that have nothing to do with Bauer next week, but for now, ugh.