Names and cultures have changed, but the Tomahawk Chop persists

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The Atlanta Braves are in the 2021 World Series, which means the Tomahawk Chop is also going to be in the 2021 World Series. Atlanta was briefly forced to confront the racist chant back in the 2019 postseason, but the lack of fans at games in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic gave them an opportunity to bury all of that talk of potential change, and now here we are. The Washington Football Team is a thing, the Kansas City Chiefs have enacted some protocols to combat the culture of racism in their fan base, and the Cleveland Guardians will officially replace the Cleveland Indians in 2022, but the Braves? They are still the Braves, and they are still chopping.

Let’s go back to 2019 for a moment. It was then that Cardinals’ reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke out against Atlanta’s use of the chop. The Braves’ response was… lacking:

The Braves, to their credit, listened to Helsley’s remarks, and did not distribute the customary foam tomahawks to each seat in the stadium prior to Game 5. They didn’t listen that much, though, and therefore don’t deserve that much credit, as the real promise here was just to not perform the chop — or the music that goes along with it that prompts everyone in attendance to start chopping — whenever Helsley was in the game:

Yes, the Braves’ answer to Helsley’s comments was “okay, sure, maybe the chop is racist, so we’ll only be racist when the guy it’s racist to isn’t around.” And yes, admitting something is racist and then doing it two percent less often is even worse than feigning ignorance on the matter.

Atlanta’s plan at the time was to “continue this conversation” after the end of the postseason, but it’s pretty clear now that this was just a thing that they said in order to be left alone. All of the changes in sports mentioned in the first paragraph, the name changes and the attempts to remove the kind of culture that allows the chop to even be performed, occurred after Ryan Helsley spoke up. And yet, the Braves took part in exactly none of those changes.

The Braves, like Cleveland, should have a new name so they can erase the racist culture they’ve allowed to fester over the years. Banning the chop would be a start, sure, but, if half the stadium decides to chop anyway, what do you think will happen next? Will 20,000 fans be escorted out of Truist Park by security? Will anyone performing the chop be banned from future games? There has to be no reason at all to chop, just like Cleveland had to make it so there is no reason for anyone to show up in redface to their games. I’ve said it before, but the Atlanta Hammers are right there for the taking.

Instead, Atlanta has made every possible excuse for why they aren’t changing a thing. They decided not to get rid of the chop, because some paying customers like the chop. Plenty of paying customers — and potential customers who would be happy to take the seat of a crusty racist who simply can’t enjoy professional baseball without chopping — don’t like it! And it’s not about whether people “like” it or not, either. It’s about doing the right thing. Sadly, “the right thing” for a sports team or a corporation or whatever is only a possibility when there are more dollars to be lost than gained by keeping the status quo. The chop and the name aren’t costing the Braves money at the moment, as they haven’t received the same kind of negative press and scrutiny as NFL’s Washington franchise or Cleveland’s MLB team  — hell, TBS kept showing fans doing the chop again and again during the NLDS and NLCS — so for now, nothing will change. It took sponsors like FedEx threatening Washington to get them to finally agree that their team name shouldn’t be a literal slur against Native Americans. The Braves don’t have as obviously negative of a name, since it’s the culture their name creates that is the problem, so that level of opposition against the team, opposition that could cost them money, just has not built up in a similar way.

This lack of pressure is why Atlanta keeps half-heartedly saying they’re having conversations with Native American leaders, or that they’re considering making some changes, or why in some situations they feel confident enough to just straight-up say they’re going to keep things exactly as they are. Maybe with the Braves no longer being part of a larger group of sports teams in need of change, and kind of going solo — or at least close to it, comparatively, the Chiefs aren’t quite there yet but they’re a hell of a lot further on than Atlanta — the amount of pressure will be changed, the media attention (and maybe sponsorship attention) more prominent and ongoing. Maybe the chop occurring on a basic cable network during the World Series, in 2021 instead of in the 90s, will end up being what sparks this additional attention. Something has to give, because the chop just should not still exist.

Then again, maybe the Braves are going to just keep giving everyone the middle finger about this in order to satisfy the worst tendencies of the worst parts of their fan base. You know, like when they brought prominent and outspoken anti-vaxxer Travis Tritt in to sing the national anthem before the last game of the NLCS, just this past weekend. For a game where COVID protocols were still in effect, to the point that the unvaccinated Tritt could not even perform the song on the field. They’ll keep acting like this unless there are consequences, and those consequences need to be financial, so, the public pressure to sponsorship worry pipeline really needs to produce something here in order to make Atlanta stop all of this.

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