The Atlanta Braves organization made a statement Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with the team’s performance on the field.
Whether they knew it or not, those in the Braves’ front office threw themselves and their fan base under the bus and painted the team in a bad light.
It stemmed from the decision not to divvy out the more than 41,000 foam tomahawks in the seats before the Braves faced the St. Louis in Wednesday’s decisive fifth game of the National League Division Series.
As the teams played the first two games of the series at SunTrust Park, a Cardinals beat writer asked reliever Ryan Helsley for his thoughts on the Braves’ tradition of the Tomahawk Chop — the rallying cry copied from Florida State when former Seminole football star Deion Sanders played for the Braves in the 1990s.
Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, answered honestly, saying he found the Chop to be “disappointing” and “disrespectful.”
Before Wednesday’s game, the Braves released the following statement:
“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.”
With the statement, the Braves agreed with Helsley. They said the fans were insensitive, and from the organization’s standpoint, they realized the Tomahawk Chop and everything and everyone associated with it was wrong.
No one asked the Braves to make changes prior to the game. Members of the organization said it came from internal discussions.
If you have a fan tradition, you either do it or you don’t. You can’t limit the Chop to just a few times during the game. And if you aren’t going to give out the foam tomahawks to all the fans, then don’t allow them to be sold on game days in the team shop.
To do it the way they did, it appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction that put the Braves, their fans and anyone else affiliated with the team in a bad light, and it could have caused an even bigger problem.
Imagine what might have happened if Helsley was brought into a close game. As the face of the issue, fans would have had no other target to direct their displeasure at him. There may have been a scene, or worse.
In full disclosure, I am a Cleveland Indians fan. This past season was the first the Indians did not have Chief Wahoo — the team’s toothy, grinning mascot — on their caps and uniforms, or used by the team in any of its advertising, promotions or social media campaigns.
I wasn’t happy when the Indians did away with the Chief, because it was like losing a part of my childhood. I never considered it offensive. I still think of it as a cartoon that meant it was summer and my favorite baseball team was playing.
If the Chop is lost, it will affect a lot of Braves fans the same way the Chief affected me.
That being said, what the Braves did Wednesday was wrong.
The Indians negotiated with Major League Baseball for years to bring the end to Chief Wahoo.
Like that, the Braves’ situation is something that should be determined in the offseason, not two hours before the gates are opened. If the organization truly believes that a change needs to be made, then make it. Eliminate the Chop, and do away with the social media hashtag, #ChopOn, change the name of the Chop House and take the tomahawks off the uniforms.
If you make a change, do it because it’s the right thing to do, but don’t leave your fans hanging during a nationally televised playoff game.