A flurry of offensive activity literally unprecedented in major league postseason history sent the Braves packing in the NLDS. The Cardinals moved on to the National League Championship Series and a shot at yet another pennant. Every Redbird chipped in and reached base safely in the first, and Jack Flaherty pitched a gem which ended Atlanta’s season.
For this lifelong Cubs fan with Cardinals fans as in-laws mercilessly trolling me in a family text thread, this outcome should have been a living nightmare. Yet I found myself relieved that the Braves, who are a fun young team with personalities that I have come to love, lost.
The Braves call Georgia home. It’s the state of peaches, good people, and baseball heroes. Georgia is also the homeland of the Cherokee. At one point in our history, a rogue U.S. president forcibly removed the Cherokee, which created the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee had made peace with the new U.S. government. They were actively working to join broader American society.
They created a democratic-republican constitution, and engaged in friendly commerce with European-Americans. The Cherokee even fought as Americans against the British in the War of 1812. Yet the U.S. Government broke treaties, violated property rights, and ignored the Supreme Court. 4,000 people died in a partial genocide with a profound impact felt even today.
After moving to the scene of this tragedy in 1966, the Braves chose to ignore the potentially offensive implications of a mostly white fan base using a moniker for Native Americans as a mascot. It is not just the mascot either, the team uses a Native American chant as a rallying cry, and a Native American weapon as a logo and toy. For decades, this organization profited from images that are insensitive at best and racist at worst. In addition, this year, the Braves brought this suspect practice to the digital age with the promotion of #ChopOn.
Moreover, the Braves compounded the problematic aspects when they abandoned relatively new Turner Field for a ballpark in the suburbs. Cobb County is one of the few places in the Atlanta metropolitan area not part of the local transportation network, MARTA. Voters rejected efforts to link with Atlanta, likely out of a desire not to integrate with their African-American neighbors.
The Cherokee used to call Cobb County specifically home, which is another factor in this as well.
Enter Ryan Helsley. He is a Cardinals rookie with a 2.94 ERA and a respectable 1.255 WHIP. Helsley pitched a third of an inning in game one of the Division Series in Atlanta. During this appearance, 40,000 fans waving inflatable tomahawks subjected Helsley to the chop chant.
Helsley is Cherokee, a member of the official tribe. Only after reporter prodding did Helsley comment, but, when he did, his statements were concise and forceful:
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general. 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 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.”
The inflatable tomahawks disappeared by game 5. The commissioner and Braves officials issued statements suggesting that the organization would revisit how it branded itself in the future.
For once in modern American society, it appears someone voiced a concern, others listened, history was considered, and action was taken. The Cardinals destruction of Atlanta may have been the death knell of #ChopOn. It might just be that a Cardinals win on Wednesday was good for baseball, fairness, respect, and America.
Author Twitter: @GoldenHalloFame
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