“That’s the disappointing part,” he said. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”
Braves fans performed the tomahawk chop chant Thursday night when Helsley, who is from Tahlequah, Okla., entered Game 1 of the National League Division Series between St. Louis and Atlanta. He told the Post-Dispatch that he didn’t notice the noise as he entered the game, saying he was too focused on the moment. But he did see the foam tomahawks that were placed on SunTrust Park seats before Game 1. And after the game , he said, he took some time to research the background of the tomahawk chop.
“It’s interesting that people have suggested that they should change it, and it’s still the same thing,” Helsley told the Post-Dispatch.
According to the Post-Dispatch, the Braves said in a statement that the franchise takes “seriously” Helsley’s concerns and has “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,” the statement continued. “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 also spoke with the Athletic about the chop, saying it “kind of devalues our Cherokee heritage and the Native American history.”
“Us as Cherokee native people went through a lot in this country, and to have your ancestors used as a mascot, it’s more of a disappointment-type thing,” he said. “It doesn’t make me mad or anything, it’s just like a disrespect-type thing. It shows less respect for the people, you know?”
In February, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred told The Washington Post that the Braves had “taken steps to take out the tomahawk chop.”
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that,” Manfred said.
Helsley faced two batters Thursday, allowing a single to Adam Duvall and forcing a groundout of Francisco Cervelli. The 25-year-old rookie did not play in Game 2 on Friday, which the Braves won.
“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.”
“A lot of Cherokee kids are looking up to me right now. I understand that,” he told the Peoria Journal Star in 2016. “I’m proud of my heritage, happy to be a role model, to let them see that it can be done. It means a lot.”
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