Having grown up in the ’60s, Dickinson recalls the unrest of that decade. In an email to Braves chairman Terry McGuirk, he wrote: “With all the social and racial unrest that is occurring, it’s just a matter of time before that drum starts to bang again for the Braves to change their name. This time could be different, though. And you could be in position to direct its path with history-making, industry-shattering leadership.”
The Braves’ position is that they have no plans to change their name, that they consider “Braves” a celebration of Native American life. They point to their relationship with
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as proof that Native Americans agree.
Dickinson and I spoke this week. Excerpts of the conversation follow.
Q: Why this, and why now?
A: I think things have changed. A year ago, I would have been entirely in (the Braves') camp. I think what we have seen happen in this country the last couple of months, the last year or so, has caused a lot of us to look at things differently. And I think that means a lot of us in the sports world, which is why you see so many sports figures speaking out the way that they are. I think what I have suggested is nothing but a win-win for everybody.
Q: Do you find "Braves" objectionable? (For the record, Dickinson is white.)
A: I actually don't. I have always felt like they were using that to honor the Native Americans, not to denigrate them. But I don't believe that's the way a lot of the public is looking at things now, and I think it's going to continue to move in that direction.
Q: Do you believe, for those who believe the Braves should change their name, changing one letter would suffice?
A: I think it definitely would, especially if they choose – and this would be a really key part of it – to honor the brave men and women that have made Atlanta the great city that it is. White, Black, male, female, Native American.
Q: Was this idea something you'd been pondering?
A: It was actually a bolt from the blue. I was just kind of sitting here realizing that these issues were going to rear their heads for teams that had names that were objectionable, mostly Native American – Warriors, Redskins, some of the colleges that fight the same battle. I can't see the Braves ever being called anything like the Peaches or Wolverines or any other name that you could come up with. And I said, "What would be a really honorable name for them to gravitate to?" and I just thought, "Well, just drop the 's' and you could make a lot of positivity out of it.
Dickinson ran his proposal past Bob Hope, who handled PR for the Braves in the ’70s – the team was hearing change-the-name demands even then – and stands as the dean of Atlanta publicists. Said Hope: “I told him it was probably the most elegant solution I’ve heard. I favor the traditional name and consider it a tribute, but I understand the sensitivity and momentum of it.”
Said Dickinson: “If anybody has been the consummate publicist for the Braves over the years, it’s Bob. … That was enough solidification for me to believe it’s a really good idea.”
Being a PR person, Dickinson can envision the campaign. “From a revenue standpoint, think of the people who would want commemorative merchandise from the existing name,” he said. “You could do really well with that until the new season, and they could have a huge ceremony to induct the first wave of brave Atlantans. Do a poll to suggest names, a poll to select names, get corporate Atlanta to help them reposition and get behind their new positioning. They could actually one-up everybody who’s looking to change their name.”
Dickinson concedes his plan might not be received well by the Braves themselves. “I may never be able to walk into The Battery (Atlanta) unannounced again,” he said. He also said this: “It basically comes down to, you’ve got to do the right thing. I’ve gotten old enough that I realize that. You’ve got to do the right thing.”