Ryan Helsley, a Cardinals reliever and a member of the Cherokee Nation, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the series that the tradition in Atlanta was a “misrepresentation” and “devalues” native peoples.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” he said. “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."
During and after Wednesday’s loss, conservatives active in Georgia politics called out the team for abandoning the foam axes.
State Rep. Trey Kelley (R) wrote that the Cardinals’ first-inning outburst was “karma for the unjust and rash decision to do away with foam tomahawks” and said Helsley’s comment “was rooted in gamesmanship, and we allowed it to distract us going into a critical game.” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson called the team’s crushing loss “fitting and embarrassing.”
“Apparently, to make amends for the tomahawk, the Braves just decided to let the Cardinals win,” he also tweeted.
Nick Ayers, a former top adviser to Vice President Pence and a Georgia GOP figure, questioned the team, too.
“Maybe don’t ban the tomahawk chop next time?” he wrote on Twitter after the first inning onslaught.
One tea party organizer suggested the franchise rename itself the “Atlanta Snowflakes.”
After Helsley’s initial comments, the Braves said in a statement that the franchise takes “seriously” his concerns and has “worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years.” The team pledged not to use chop-related graphics or music when Helsley was in the game.
“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.”
Before Wednesday’s game, the team said in a statement that 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.”
Helsley told reporters that Braves move was “a positive thing.”
“Fans might not like it, but maybe they can reflect back on it and see it was a good move,” he said.
But when the Braves did not hand out the foam props, some GOP leaders from the state cried foul, according to the Journal Constitution, which first reported on the trend. The head of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a top aide to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and a state Georgia GOP official all expressed (or retweeted) displeasure about the decision, according to the paper.
The team hasn’t distanced itself far from the chop and its symbolism. It’s used the slogan “ChopOn” throughout the season and postseason. The team also sells merchandise with pictograph instructions on how to join the cheer.
That’s not enough, though, for a number of fans disappointed by the team’s policy. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 3,600 users had signed an online petition in support of the chop and chant.
“Perhaps the Braves went down in one of the worst beatings in playoff history because the Braves front office took the fans out of the game before it even began,” the petition reads. “Tradition matters.”