St. Louis reliever Ryan Helsley said after Game 1, when his entrance to the contest was greeted by the chop and its accompanying chant, that he found it “disrespectful.”
“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,” Helsley, a native of Tahlequah, Okla., said last week. “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?”
The Braves responded at the time by issuing a statement in which they said they “appreciate and take seriously” Helsley’s concerns and have “worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years.”
Shortly before Wednesday’s game began, the Braves said in a statement, “Out of respect for the concerns expressed by Mr. Helsley, we will take several efforts to reduce the Tomahawk Chop during our in-ballpark presentation today.”
In addition to shelving the foam tomahawks, the team said it would not be “playing the accompanying music or using Chop-related graphics when Mr. Helsley is in the game."
“As stated earlier, we will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience,” the Braves said. “We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”
As Game 5 progressed and with Helsley in the Cardinals’ bullpen, Braves fans continued to use the chant — with the team playing accompanying music — along with the traditional arm gesture mimicking a chopping motion. They have done so since the early 1990s, when they borrowed the rallying cry from fans of the Florida State Seminoles.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in February that the Braves “have taken steps to take out the tomahawk chop,” but the team continued to distribute foam tomahawks, including for the home opener in April. In addition, the team has used the slogan “Chop on” as a hashtag on social media.
The Braves phased out a longtime mascot, Chief Noc-a-homa, in 1986. Manfred has played a role in encouraging the Cleveland Indians to discontinue this season use of imagery of Chief Wahoo, a logo featuring a cartoonishly grinning Native American man.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said Friday to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “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.”
“I feel like there are a lot of other things they could use as mascots,” he added. “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.”
Told before Game 5 of the Braves’ efforts to address his concerns, Helsley said to ESPN, “I think they’re taking the right steps. … Fans might not like it, but maybe they can reflect back on it and see it was a good move.”