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How will Braves handle 'tomahawk chop' as fans return?

Tim Tucker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Baseball

Eighteen months after the Braves said they would evaluate the future of the “tomahawk chop” at their games, team officials still haven’t announced a position on the issue.

And another home season opens, with fans in the stands, Friday night at Truist Park.

Will the Braves play the musical and video-board prompts for the chop, as they have done for decades? Or will they attempt to tamp down the chop and its accompanying chant by dropping the music and encouragement? The Braves haven’t said.

They also haven’t said whether they intend to announce the outcome of their protracted evaluation before the home opener – or whether they’ll simply put into practice, without advance notice, whatever action or inaction they’ve decided upon.

Braves CEO Derek Schiller was unavailable for an interview on the topic, a team spokeswoman said Tuesday. The Braves declined to provide a statement for this article.

The tomahawk chop has been a part of Braves home games since 1991, spreading to the team’s fans from Florida State when FSU alum Deion Sanders played for the Braves. It has drawn criticism through the decades, including during the Braves’ 2019 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

Ryan Helsley, a Cardinals relief pitcher and a member of the Cherokee Nation, called the Braves fans’ arm motion and chant “disrespectful.” He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general. Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual.”

Before the series’ final game Oct. 9, 2019, the Braves decided not to distribute 40,000 red foam tomahawks to fans, as had been planned, and decided not to play the musical prompt and graphics for the chop when Helsley was in the game. He didn’t get into the game, which the Cardinals won 13-1 after scoring 10 runs in the first inning, and the chop broke out several times.

The Braves said in a written statement at that game that they looked forward “to continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after this postseason concludes.” The Braves were able to defer a decision on the future of the tomahawk chop last year because no fans attended games at Truist Park in a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Significantly, Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies will be the first game played at Truist (formerly named SunTrust Park) with fans in attendance since the 2019 NLDS.

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