A fan’s view: What to tell a son, honoring a culture, more

Foam tomahawks wait in the seats for fans for the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs in the Braves home opener MLB baseball game at SunTrust Park on Monday, April 1, 2019, in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Foam tomahawks wait in the seats for fans for the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs in the Braves home opener MLB baseball game at SunTrust Park on Monday, April 1, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Is it time for the Braves to change their name?

Editor's note: Should the Braves change their name and associated Native American symbols? It's a question that the franchise has faced in the past. It does so again with recent pressure on the NFL's Washington Redskins, MLB's Cleveland Indians and others to change. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sought the voice of Braves fans, on both sides, as part of a broad discussion on the topic. Here are some of those views.

ONE DAY, A TIME FOR A FATHER-SON TALK

My 5-year-old son, Joseph, is one-quarter Navajo. Joseph and I went to several Braves games when he was a baby. It was easy: tickets were cheap, and I had been in love with the team ever since the worst-to-first 1991 season. (I still have not forgiven Kent Hrbek for pulling Ron Gant's leg off first base in the World Series.) I remember one particular game late in the 2016 campaign when Joseph was 13 months old. When the Tomahawk Chop started, I sat him in my lap facing the field and used his chubby arm to chop along to the beat. A few seconds in I paused, feeling uneasy. I saw his beautiful brown skin in my hand and could not continue. During the weeks and months that followed, that uneasiness has only grown; expanded to the point that we had to stop following the team. The Atlanta Braves were my first love in sports, our family hasn’t watched a game since 2017.

OTHER OPINIONS

» Keep the community, change name
» Storied history matters to others

To many, the name Braves doesn’t appear offensive on its face. I’ve heard several arguments for removing the more problematic aspects of Native American mascots (e.g. Chief Wahoo, the Washington R-dskins name) and leaving elements like the Braves as it might slip under a theoretical bar of what is deemed too racist.

Even if the name Braves doesn’t cause harm, having a name that calls Native Americans to mind appears to encourages harmful language. A review of the words used on social media before the most recent Super Bowl showed that trash talk of the Kansas City Chiefs relied on dangerous stereotypes of Native peoples. Fans regularly referenced tribal genocide, alcoholism, etc. to insult the Chiefs. Having a team named the Braves doesn’t make someone use racist language, but it’s hard to imagine a news organization saying Atlanta was “scalped” if the team were named differently. (See: Braves Scalped in 2019, hardly ancient history.)

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As long as the Braves name remains, the organization will have to play whack-a-mole with racist imagery and language as it pops up. Yesterday it was the Screaming Indian logo, tomorrow it will be the Tomahawk Chop. If we don’t have to think of Native Americans as real people, then we’re free to reduce them to whatever whitewashed historical stereotype we desire.

My son will one day realize what it means for there to be a team named the Braves. I’ll help him grapple with the Tomahawk Chop. I’ll show him how to forgive people referencing smallpox, scalping, or peace pipes without a care for the real pain associated with it. I plan to teach him about how the Braves were named in 1912 — only nine years after the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had full power to override previous treaties with Native Americans. He will have to decide how that makes him feel about himself and his home.

I hate that it took me this long to finally consider the danger in reducing an oppressed people group to a mascot. One day I hope Joseph will forgive me.

Perhaps he and I, as father and son, could talk through these big questions as we watch our favorite team, the Atlanta Hammers, play.

-Stephen Owens

IF HONORING A CULTURE IS OFFENSIVE, THEN WHAT ISN'T? 

First, I am not a Native American although I do have some Cherokee blood in me. I say this because a lot of people wanting to make the point I plan on making will try and use a small percentage of Native American blood as a trump card, when that is not fair nor intellectually honest.

I have been a Braves fan since my dad took me to Game 3 of the National League Division Series in 2001, when we swept Houston. I was 8 years old, in the third grade. I remember it being the first thing new to think about and found it very exciting, since it was a distraction from the daily post-9/11 chaos that every adult seemed to be talking about.

Here is the logic I think most people in the current climate are missing: Political and social climate may usually be a driving force for change, but that does not make them the decisive factor in right or wrong. They are subjective things affecting an objective issue. Here are the facts: The Braves are not the same type of moniker as the Redskins or the Indians. Redskins is a term used by whites to belittle Native Americans. I am shocked that it hasn’t been forced to change already. Indians is a moniker used to categorize Native Americans and create a certain image. Some Natives find that offensive, others embrace the term. Let them decide how to go forward. But the term Braves is nowhere near offensive in nature or intent, nor is the Tomahawk Chop. If honoring a culture is offensive, then what ISN'T? I know, I get it, I’m a white guy, so my opinion means little to the culture Marxists trying to run the political forum in this country, but logic is logic. There is no correlation between the term Braves and the term Redskins. The term is a name honoring a warrior tribe which embraces the spirit of the Native Americans, which was swept under the rug by whites centuries ago, and honoring it the way the Braves do is the EXACT OPPOSITE of racist.

People will argue we shouldn’t appropriate a culture. However, I would say that the claim we are appropriating anything is racist and offensive, as it implies we are doing something to make it acceptable for us to use, when in its own nature, it is fine and acceptable. We are honoring it as it is and was. And to clump in the term Braves with offensive names like Redskins just displays their ignorance of what it is they think they are talking about. Their logic is that any mention of Native American culture in sports or competition is offensive, which in turn categorizes the group as a whole and puts them in a box, which I'm pretty sure is what they think they're claiming using the term Indians or Braves is doing.

The madness of today’s society is a sickness that has now very evidently begun to eat itself up, like a snake chasing its own tail. In a desperate attempt to quell white guilt complexes, people, most of which have NO affiliation with Native Americans whatsoever, are lashing out and projecting racism onto others. I completely support the removal of the name Redskins and stand firmly on the ground that the term Braves is in no way offensive or related to the same neighborhood of connotation that Redskins is.

-Steven Pelky

IT’S TIME TO EMBRACE THE CHANGE

It’s time. Like it or not, change likely is coming to the Braves name and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The criticisms of the Braves name, the tomahawk logo, and the chop chant over the years have been founded and certainly carry significance. It’s time we listen.

This wave of change that has emerged recently has been the result of looking at things with a new perspective and the ultimate goal of holding ourselves to a higher social standard. If we are able to change a name and image of something as trivial as a sports team to better reflect our values as a society, it is our responsibility to do so. Using Native American imagery in this way to appropriate a group of people by reducing them to a caricature is outdated and inappropriate.

Steps have already begun to remove the Tomahawk Chop from the team’s identity, and local Native American leaders have been outspoken on their disapproval of this chant. Last year in Game 5 of the NLDS, the team scaled back the playing of the accompanying music and didn’t pass out the usual foam tomahawks to fans in attendance. This move was met with frustration from fans, but this is the kind of progress that needs to be made. The Braves name is the logical next step, as it is synonymous with the outdated chant and addressing one but not the other is an ineffective half measure. Changing the name of the team doesn’t have to have a negative effect on your memories as a sports fan, these along with the history of the organization can be preserved. This is only a new chapter to the story.

So now the fun part. I’ve heard the common ideas going around like the Atlanta Peaches, which is fine, but let’s think outside the box. How about the Atlanta Appalachians as a nod to the mountain range that runs from north Georgia throughout Braves country here in the Southeast? Or the Atlanta Aliens as a homage to the city’s native Outkast and their popular ATLien moniker? Here’s a dark-horse idea: the Atlanta Smoke. This could serve as a tribute to the burning of Atlanta being a critical turning point in the Civil War, plus it’s just a really cool name. I even have a tagline ready to go: “Atlanta Smoke - Where there’s Smoke, there’s fire.” My favorite, however, is a name that Atlanta already is familiar with: the Thrashers, the name of the city’s former NHL team that comes from the state bird of Georgia. I always thought that name had a menacing sound to it and could lend itself to some sharp looking jerseys.

Whatever the name ends up being, I know the great fans of Atlanta will rally around it and continue to support this organization as it carries on its tradition of success. It’s a great time to be an Atlanta baseball fan, with this young and exciting team establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with for years to come. This is the perfect opportunity to turn the page on our history and begin a new era. The future is extremely bright regardless of what it says on the front of the jersey.

-Colin Wierengo

CHANGING NAME DOESN’T CHANGE HISTORY

I am a lifelong Braves fan. Just missing out on the Team of the ’90s, I grew up watching Chipper and Andruw then McCann and Frenchy. With Freddie, Ozzie, and Ronald, the team’s future is bright. I own many jerseys with Braves across the chest and have acquired countless foam tomahawks as a child. As I have learned more about what the name and symbol represent, I have realized that the Braves must change their name.

I understand that many fans will find this decision controversial. Changing the name, however, does not change the franchise’s history or erase our memories of the team. In franchise history, the team has been called the Red Stockings, Red Caps, Beaneaters, Doves, Rustlers and Bees. Do you not weep for these names as well? The current team name is not even an Atlanta original, rather, Boston then Milwaukee has handed it down to us.

Changing the name does not remove Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, the Big Three, Chipper Jones, and countless others we love and admire from the history books. Instead, changing the name actually reminds us of our nation’s history.

While fans may believe the name belongs to them, the name and tomahawk symbol ultimately belong to Native Americans. Just 40 years before the franchise began in Boston, the United States government, defying a Supreme Court ruling, forcibly removed the Cherokee people from their land and killed thousands. Profiting from Native American symbology in a state that eradicated them is unjust. Fans, like myself, who have no Native American roots will never understand the pain and suffering inflicted upon them, however, we can and must empathize with them and consider their perspective. Even today, Native Americans face history’s consequences such as the disproportionate effects of COVID-19.

Rather than use the name to highlight Native American struggles, the franchise instead has portrayed them with caricatures such as Chief Noc-A-Homa, the Screaming Indian logo and still the Tomahawk Chop. I, like almost every Braves fan, have done the Tomahawk Chop. Having done the chop does not make myself and other fans bad people. We must, however, be better and educate ourselves on the inequalities minority groups face. The team name needs to change to accurately represent Atlanta and our history.

-Spencer Maddox

THIS IS NOT A NEW DISCUSSION

The Atlanta Braves should change their name. I am a lifelong fan; I grew up in Marietta and fell in love with the Braves during their run of division titles in the ’90s. Since leaving for the Air Force in the mid-’00s I have continued to follow the Braves, through multiple moves and deployments, and would go to games whenever I was in the same city. The Braves taught me (repeatedly) how to deal with heartbreak, and I was excited to take my 2-year-old daughter to a game this summer before COVID struck.

I recently came around to changing the name of the team. I am a graduate of a high school named after a Confederate general, went to several laser light shows at Stone Mountain, and was friends with people who displayed the Confederate flag openly. I did not think the Braves name was a big deal, and I happily did the Tomahawk Chop whenever I went to a game. But the Black Lives Matter protest has changed my mind on what is appropriate and shown me as a white guy from the suburbs that just because I do not find something offensive does not mean that others share my view. So let’s use this national moment as a reset. We can rename the team to something we can all celebrate with no shame. Atlanta has a long, proud history, let us leverage it and create new rituals under a new name. Creating new traditions is achievable. While living in Las Vegas, I watched the city rally around a team with no history (the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL) and create new traditions on the fly, none of which were culturally insensitive. You do not even have to look outside the perimeter; the Atlanta United soccer team offers the Braves a blueprint future.

Finally, I hear but disagree with the political argument against the change. Some see this as bending to the protester’s agenda and a slippery slope to major societal changes. You can disagree with some of the protesters' messages or their methods, but they are right on this issue. The concern about the Braves’ name and logo and the chop long predates the recent protest movement. This same discussion occurred during the 1995 World Series, and last year during the playoffs. Much like the discussion about changing the name of Army bases named after Confederate generals the best time to change was years ago, the second-best time is now.

-Bryce Johnson