The Atlanta Braves are in the National League Division Series and you know what that means: “Tomahawk Chops” being blared after every big Braves play and more on national television.
One player on the other team isn’t a fan.
Cardinals’ Ryan Helsley: Tomahawk Chop is ‘disrespectful’
St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley is a member of the Cherokee nation and one of a handful of Native Americans to play in MLB. He was born and raised in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, speaks the Cherokee language and can trace his lineage back to ancestors forced to march along the Trail of Tears.
When asked by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a gesture commonly criticized as insensitive to native groups, Helsley indicated he didn’t think very highly of it:
“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 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.”
Helsley is one of many figures in the American Indian community that have criticized the “Tomahawk Chop,” which originated when Florida State University adopted the Seminoles as its mascot and was later copied by Braves fans in the 1990s. The chant and gesture has also been used by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said before the season that he believed the Braves organization has “taken steps” to eliminate the Chop, an effort that has taken the form of selling t-shirts teaching fans how to do the Chop while still using the Chop.
Braves respond with statement
The Braves responded to Helsley’s comments with a statement released Saturday, saying they have “worked to honor and respect the Native American community.” The statement did not cite any examples, but it did promise to “evaluate how we activate elements of our brand,” whatever that means.
The full statement, from the Post-Dispatch:
"We appreciate and take seriously the concerns of Mr. Helsley and have worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years. Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country. We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the in-game experience, and look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community once the season comes to an end."
Helsley says he isn’t alone among Native Americans
Given that the Cherokee tribe was based in areas of what is now Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia, a group of states now teeming with Braves fans, Helsley took issue with the team’s “tradition.”
“This is where our bloodlines come from is in this area,” he said. “To still have some pro teams and stuff like that to keep hold of Native American mascots is kind of disappointing.”
Helsley went onto say he isn’t alone among members of the Cherokee tribe that don’t approve of the Chop.
“I talked to some people from back home and they’re kind of on the same page,” Helsley said. “Nothing that infuriates you. Just a disappointment.”
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