ATLANTA, GA — More than 35,000 fans have signed a petition asking the Atlanta Braves to keep the long-standing tradition of the “tomahawk chop” after team officials said they’re considering its future in light of backlash from Native Americans.
Braves fan Kevin Mooneyhan created the petition Thursday to keep the chant, attracting 20,000 signatures within the first 24 hours. It now has more than 35,000 signatures.
“Quite simply, the Braves fan base is upset with what the front office did just hours before the start of Game 5,” Mooneyhan said. “I’m not one to say that the Braves lost because of how the chop was diminished, but I do believe anyone who has been to a Braves’ playoff game will tell you that the foam tomahawks and the chant are powerful complements to getting the energy of the game flowing in the home team’s advantage.”
After the first game of the postseason series between the Braves and Cardinals on Oct. 3, Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the tomahawk chop is “disrespectful.” Helsley, an Oklahoma native, is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said. “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,” Helsley said. “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. That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”
Afterward, the Braves organization said it will look into the tradition and speak with Native Americans after Cherokee and Creek tribal chiefs supported Helsley’s statement, the AJC said.
Both the Post-Dispatch and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Helsley’s grandfather was full-blooded Cherokee, and the family has deep roots in the heart of Cherokee Nation.
The Braves need to consider what is going to be best for their organization, Mooneyhan said, adding that “pandering to the notion that the chop is somehow offensive and degrading to Native Americans would be a bad move and would upset the majority of their fan base.”
“The imagery of (the tomahawk chop and the war chant) are so ingrained in the reputation of the team that the backlash from fans would be detrimental,” Mooneyhan said. He argued the imagery isn’t offensive because no sports team would base itself “on a group of people they meant to diminish or found inferior in any way.
“The Braves, the tomahawk chop, the war chant are all symbols of strength and are based on the historical reputation of Native Americans being fierce warriors,” Mooneyhan said. “This is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of. Should American ranchers be offended by the Dallas Cowboys or should patriotic Americans be offended by the New England Patriots? It’s just silly to be offended by something that is not meant to be harmful, but instead is meant to symbolize strength.”
The tomahawk chop first began in 1991. “Chop On” is a rallying cry for Atlanta fans, and the words are on the top of the team’s website.
The chop was adopted by the Braves from the Florida State Seminoles, Mooneyhan said.
“The Seminole Tribe has fully embraced Florida State’s use of the Seminole imagery and therefore, by extension, the use of the chop by the Braves should be viewed with pride,” he said. “I hope the Braves will see this petition and realize how upset the fan base will be if they decide to get rid of the chop. Pretty soon we will have enough petition signatures to fill Suntrust Park.”
Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall told the AJC last week the team “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.”
Meanwhile, Mooneyhan said he hopes the Braves officials “will communicate the reasons why their imagery is meant to be complimentary to Native Americans.”
“I hope instead of defaulting to removing the chop and war chant, the communication between the Braves and the Native American tribes will open doors to ways that the Braves can highlight and honor those tribes moving forward,” Mooneyhan said.
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