ATLANTA – As the World Series moves to Atlanta, some viewers may be offended to see Braves fans still chopping and singing loudly.
After NFL and Major League Baseball teams ditch names seen as racist and offensive to Native Americans for the past two years, the Braves are taking the plunge – with the support of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.
What matters most to Manfred is that the Braves have the backing of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, based in North Carolina about three hours from Atlanta.
“The Native American community in this area fully supports the Braves program, including the chop,” Manfred said Tuesday. “For me, this is kind of the end of the story. In this market, we take the Native American community into account.”
Manfred’s decision to accept contribution from just one Native American group does not suit the Oklahoma-based Muscogee Nation.
“I think on a subject like that and when you are dealing with an Indian country, you have to look at it as a whole instead of one or two specific places,” said Jason Salsman, the Nation’s press secretary. Muscogee, to the Associated Press. Thursday.
“You have to look far and see what all Indian nations are feeling.”
Richard Sneed, Principal Leader of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, would like to see more outrage over what he said were much bigger issues facing Native Americans including poverty, unemployment, abuse of children, sexual assault and suicide.
“I’m not offended by someone waving their arm at a sports game,” Sneed told the AP on Tuesday. “I’m just not. If someone is, it’s his prerogative, it’s his right. He may be offended.… I don’t know many, maybe one or two, from my tribe who say, ‘Yeah, I don’t like that. But at the end of the day, we’ve got bigger issues to deal with.’
Sneed said issues of crime and poverty remain largely ignored as national attention shifted to team names and the tomahawk chop.
“There is so much going on and the frustrating part for me as a tribal leader is when the only question that seems to be discussed is…” How offended are you by the chop and should the Braves change their name? ‘ … Really, that’s the least of our problems, I guess that’s what I’m saying. “
There is no indication that the Braves are considering changing their name or discouraging the chop, which has been a tradition for their fans since the early 1990s. Former Braves outfielder Deion Sanders is credited with bringing the chop, that was part of his college football background at Florida State, Atlanta.
Sanders, now Jackson State football coach, declined a request for an interview from the AP.
The Braves follow the lead of Florida State and the Minor League Spokane Indians in nurturing relationships and developing support from local Native American groups.
The Braves have temporarily tried to downplay the chop in the 2019 National League Divisional Series against St. Louis after Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said he found it insulting.
After Helsley’s complaint, the Braves stopped handing out the red foam tomahawks used by fans who chop during the series. They also stopped playing backing music to encourage singing.
The coronavirus pandemic emptied stadiums last year and diverted attention.
Now the fans are back and the chop is fully rekindled, with drumbeats, stadium music, and tomahawk footage displayed on video panels around Truist Park.
From Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to outstanding University of Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis to Braves fans, there is broad local support for the chop.
Kemp wrote “Chop On, and Go @Braves!” on his Twitter account after Atlanta defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.
Davis, who asked him on Monday if he was shooting for the Braves, said: “Sure. Cut the Braves. We’re definitely cheering them on.”
Braves fans even brought the chop and vocals to Houston. A small number of fans began to chop when the Braves took the lead on Tuesday night in Game 1 and stayed in the stadium to pick up the chop after a 6-2 victory.
No dissenting opinion on the chop could be found among a line of fans waiting to purchase World Series tickets on Tuesday morning at Truist Park.
“It’s really awesome,” said Sarah Oldham. “I think it’s part of our winning strategy, to make all this noise in the stadium. It’s like the voodoo is going on. I’d be scared.”
Said Caleb Godfrey, who works near Truist Park, when asked about the chop: “I love it. I love it.”
“I understand both sides of the pro and con argument, but I also don’t feel like this is a Redskins scenario where it’s offensive,” Godfrey said.
The Braves declined to comment on their renewed support for the chop.
Washington NFL Football Team dropped the Redskins Name. The MLB Cleveland Indians have Guardians announced as their new name. The Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL facial pressure to interrupt the chop singing of their fans.
Sneed said Redskins was “the only name I thought was derogatory. Yeah, that’s offensive. The rest of them never really bothered me and still don’t bother me to this day.”
The Braves dedicated their July 17 game against the Tampa Bay Rays to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The team said the evening will be an annual event designed in part to educate fans about the group’s history and culture.
The Braves have placed a “We’re Still Here” sign in their stadium monument garden. The display is designed to inform fans about the history of the EBCI.
Sneed said the Braves have “really played a role and really a pioneer in setting an example for the use of their platform as it is a national platform and in some cases international.”
Manfred also praised the Braves, saying “they did a great job with Native Americans” in the area.
“The Native American community is the most important group in deciding whether it is appropriate or not and they have always supported the Braves,” said Manfred.
Harrah’s Cherokee Resort and Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina is a sponsor of the Braves.
“This is separate from what we do on the government side,” Sneed said, adding that he and other tribal council officials “have no input or a say in it.”
The casino generates funds “so we have the resources to really help our people, especially when it comes to issues like drug addiction, mental behavior issues, etc.,” Sneed said. “So we are in luck.
“But I am also very aware that there are… many tribes still living in abject poverty with extremely high unemployment rates.”
Sneed said he viewed the relationship with the Braves “as one where it gives us a platform to be able to discuss issues that are really important to the Indian country and that need to be addressed.
“These are not new issues for us. These are things that tribal nations have really dealt with since government intervention and the Indian Removal Act and tribes being forced out of their reservations.”
Support from Sneed’s group means everything to Manfred, who didn’t hesitate when he pressed the Braves chop.
Could other Native Americans be offended by the chop?
“I don’t know how all Native American groups across the country feel,” Manfred said. “I am 100% sure that the Braves understand what the Native American community in their area believes and have acted on that understanding.”