ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves' front office says it will hold talks with American Indians during the offseason in deciding whether to keep or abandon the 27-year-old tomahawk chop tradition.
The team hasn't offered any clarity on which indigenous groups or individuals it intends to approach, but if it's the two major tribes that once inhabited Georgia, the Braves could be in for difficult conversations.
Cherokee and Creek tribal chiefs have backed up St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley, a Cherokee Nation member who said this month that he found the fans' chanting and arm-motions insulting. Helsley said the chop depicts American Indians "in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren't intellectual."
"The Cherokee Nation is proud of tribal citizen and Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley," Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a written statement, "for speaking out against stereotypes and standing up for the dignity of Native Americans in this country.
"Hopefully, Ryan's actions will better inform the national conversation about inappropriate depictions of Native Americans," the chief said.
The relief pitcher's comments, made to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before Game 2 of the Braves-Cardinals series at SunTrust Park, prompted the Braves to stop handing out foam tomahawks, playing the chop music or showing the chop graphic when the series returned to Atlanta for Game 5.
The controversy has reignited a decadeslong debate about sports teams using American Indians as mascots. Asked about steps being taken to address the tomahawk chop long-term, Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall referred to the team's earlier statements.
"We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience," said a statement issued on the day of the Braves' season-ending Game 5 defeat. "We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes."