When the St. Louis Cardinals face the Atlanta Braves in tonight’s fifth and final game of the NLDS series, the Braves crowd may look and sound a bit different. After criticism of the team’s “Tomahawk Chop” gesture and chant by Cardinals’ reliever Ryan Helsley, the team is rolling back its official use of the chop while he is in the game.
That, of course, may only be a brief part of the game, if he makes it in at all. Helsley, who pitched in Games 1 and 4, the latter of which was two days ago, will likely be available.
The Oklahoma native is a member of the Cherokee Nation, and is deeply involved with that community. He spoke out after he appeared in the first game of the series in Atlanta, and the Tomahawk Chop, accompanied by foam tomahawks provided by the franchise, were all around him.
Today, the Braves announced the change, but again, it sounds like it will only take place while Helsley is in the game. There is also the distinct possibility that this encourages fans to do the chant even more voraciously if he comes on at some point.
No foam tomahawks at tonight’s game, and some changes to the in-game chop program in response to concerns raised by Cardinals’ Ryan Helsley after Game 1. Statement from the Braves to Yahoo Sports: pic.twitter.com/90NMuEjwje
— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) October 9, 2019
The Braves’ acknowledgement that the chop can be seen as offensive by members of the Native American community here only feeds the argument that Helsley, as many before him, has made about the appropriation used by the team, and others like the even more controversial Cleveland Indians and NFL’s Washington Redskins.
After Game 1, Helsley called into question the use of Native American tradition and imagery into sports mascot branding. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said Friday afternoon at SunTrust Park. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.
“That’s the disappointing part,” he continued in a conversation with The Post-Dispatch. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”[…]
“I feel like there are a lot of other things they could use as mascots,” Helsley said. “Using our heritage as a mascot – it isn’t the best thing. There have been schools who in the past 20, 30 years have changed their mascots. I don’t see why professional teams are so far behind on that.”
The Redskins are the most notorious example here, and have been very unwilling to budge through many calls for the franchise to change its nickname, which is seen by many to be racist against Native Americans. The MLB has been more open to change with the Indians’ “Chief Wahoo” logo, which it has attempted to phase out. Earlier this year, commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league has been working to do the same with the Tomahawk Chop, but to anyone who has been to a Braves game (or has seen the official team hashtag on social media, #ChopOn), that clearly hasn’t happened.
As Helsley said, college sports have been more open to moving on from Native American nicknames and mascots in recent years. The most famous example, the Florida State Seminoles, is where the Atlanta Braves borrowed the Tomahawk Chop from, but the school has an active relationship with the Seminole tribe and has been granted permission to use the various tribe-related symbols and branding. They’re not immune from criticism either, though.