The Braves did not distribute foam tomahawks to fans for Game 5 of the National League Division series against the Cardinals on Wednesday. The team also said it would take measures to reduce the tomahawk chop done by fans.
The team distributed the tomahawks at Games 1 and 2 of the series at SunTrust Park before the playoff moved to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.
The Braves said the decision was based on concerns raised from Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley before Game 2 in which he said the tomahawk chop was “disrespectful” and a “kind of caveman-type” depiction.
The team said it would limit the chant when Helsley is in the game.
A statement issued by the team Wednesday read: “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. Among other things, these steps include not distributing foam tomahawks to each seat and not 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. We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”
Helsley took offense to the fans’ arm motion and chant, used by Braves fans dating to 1991 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
The reliever learned of the Braves’ changes before batting practice Wednesday.
"I think they're taking the right steps," said Helsley, according to ESPN.com. "I think it's a positive thing. Fans might not like it, but maybe they can reflect back on it and see it was a good move."
Helsley, a 25-year-old rookie, is from Tahlequah, Okla. His grandfather was full-blooded Cherokee and the family has deep roots in the heart of Cherokee Nation.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Disptach before Game 2 on Friday. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot of 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
“That’s the disappointing part,” he continued. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”
The next day, the Braves issued the following statement: “Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country. 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.”
In addition to the foam tomahawks and the arm motion, music and scoreboard presentation, the Braves have used the hashtag #ChopOn on social media and promotion.
Despite the team’s efforts, Braves fans did the tomahawk chop in the first inning while the Cardinals were at-bat.
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