Native groups and advocates are demanding that the Atlanta Braves eliminate the “Tomahawk chop” symbol and gesture from its branding and game day traditions, saying the team is perpetuating racist stereotypes as the Braves take the national stage in the World Series. Leaders from the Native community said this week it’s past time for the Braves to join other professional sports teams such as the Cleveland Guardians and Washington Football Team in removing offensive imagery and mascots which they say reduce Native people down to caricatures. Cleveland, formerly the Indians, and Washington, formerly the Redskins, announced last year they were changing their mascots when the nation faced a reckoning on racism. That reckoning was a catalyst not only for sports teams, but also for companies like Quaker Oats, for example, which changed branding and logos that it believed promoted racist stereotypes.
The Braves’ name and “Tomahawk chop” have long garnered criticism from Native groups and tribal communities, but the team has stopped short of eliminating the name and Tomahawk symbol or chopping gesture that has been a game day tradition since 1991. Last summer, the Braves said they were reviewing the “chop” amid calls from the Native community.
The conversations about the “chop” were renewed earlier this week when Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred defended the Braves’ name and symbol saying the Native American community in the Atlanta region is “wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that’s the end of the story.”
“It’s important to understand we have 30 markets around the country,” Manfred said before Game 1 of the World Series, according to ESPN. “They’re not all the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community.
The Braves did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the recent criticism and the findings in their review of the “Tomahawk chop” last year.
Crystal EchoHawk, executive director and founder of IllumiNative, said the “Tomahawk chop” is both “racist” and “dehumanizing” for Native people and that the team needs to remove it. EchoHawk said the imagery used by the Braves and other sports teams has created toxic and harmful stereotypes of Native Americans. A lot of the imagery originated in Hollywood and doesn’t accurately represent Native people or culture, she said. “There’s zero rationale for the team to hold on to this any longer,” EchoHawk said. “I think it says that the franchise is very much a part of perpetuating and condoning racism full stop.”