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Andrew Golden: Perspectives can change. Traditions can change. So can team names -- especially ones with racist pasts and imagery.

Andrew Golden, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

CHICAGO — Some of my favorite childhood memories took place at Turner Field.

From 6 years old until I was 17, I took an annual summer trip to Georgia. My dad originally is from Augusta, where my grandmother still lives. My aunt and uncle have lived in the Atlanta area for years.

And inevitably, those trips meant seeing my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, play. I loved the atmosphere and participated in many of the traditions — the seventh-inning stretch, the food at the ballpark and the wave.

Something I also joined in on was the tomahawk chop, a tradition Braves fans adopted in 1991 in which spectators — either holding foam tomahawks or using their hands — move their hands back and forth while yelling an exaggerated chant that mocks and stereotypes Native American and Indigenous people.

As a kid, I didn’t understand the negative implications. But recently baseball, football and college teams across the country have started to reconsider their nicknames and racist imagery associated with them.

The Cleveland Indians announced earlier this year they would change their name in the near future — after already moving away from using Chief Wahoo imagery. The Washington Football Team took on its new name after businesses threatened to pull their sponsorships.

 

These discussions have also forced my family and me to reassess the histories and traditions of the teams we root for.

My Braves fandom comes strictly through my dad, who encouraged it from the moment I was born despite my growing up hundreds of miles away in Baltimore.

My dad, Chris, grew up watching the Braves on television in the 1970s with his grandmother, and he remembers a time when the team used the “Chief Noc-A-Homa” mascot.

The mascot, used for 20 years starting in 1966, initially was portrayed by a white man before Levi Walker, a member of the Odawa Tribe, took over the role in 1968. He believed he was honoring his heritage, but many felt the mascot was still insensitive.

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