I’ve been listening to a lot of classic rock lately. It gives me a nice nostalgic rush. It’s well invited, too, with everything the world is throwing at us right now. It’s important to hold the familiarity close during times of trouble.
I heard the legendary Bob Dylan cross my local radio station the other day. Middle Arkansas holds both country and classic rock as near and dear as they do the Razorbacks; Dylan is a familiar sound on COOL 104.7. The song was one with a message still relevant so many years later; Times, They Are A’Changing.
He’s right, you know. I’m sure you do. He was right 56 years ago and he’s right today. It happens all around us, whether we notice it or not. Now, we’re seeing the changes happen within Major League Baseball. It was only a matter of time, but things are gonna be different.
Everyone out there remembers the 2019 NLDS; it was too painful not to remember. I’ll spare you the details of any stats or “highlights” of the end of that series; rather, I’d like to remind everyone about a certain Cardinal. A middle reliever who voiced that he had a problem with the Braves’ tomahawk celebration.
"Using our heritage as a mascot – it isn’t the best thing. There have been schools who in the past 20, 30 years have changed their mascots. I don’t see why professional teams are so far behind on that.” — #Cardinals rookie Ryan Helsley. #Braves #NLDS https://t.co/vQ1a2oCal4
— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) October 4, 2019
The Twitter community erupted. A percentage jumped on the theory that he was upset about his performance; which threw me, seeing how he didn’t give up a run against the Braves.
It’s important to note, for those who didn’t know, that Helsley is a part of the Cherokee Nation. He was using his platform to voice his message; he didn’t see his heritage being properly exemplified by Atlanta.
Now, Helsley’s comments didn’t change everything or even have any immediate impact, rather than the removal of tomahawks from NLDS Game 5. No, it did something much more important; it started a conversation. It started an important debate and reevaluation of teams and their mascots. Were they properly displaying heritage or were the representations dated and out of character?
Fast forward to the eventual end of 2020, and the conversation paved the way to change.
The Powder Keg
You all know what’s happening now. It’s the talk of sports, national and international.
The Cleveland Indians, one of baseball’s oldest teams, are dropping the name “Indians” out of respect for the indigenous. A long-overdue change, yes, but one that still sent shockwaves throughout MLB. Bob Nightengale dropped the news a few days ago.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 14, 2020
The front office is working with Major League Baseball to determine what name would best encapsulate the Cleveland team moving forward. The change is in place. Progress is happening. The name change announcement was received with a warm reception, getting the attention of seemingly every fan positively.
It also shined a spotlight directly on the Atlanta Braves.
The Crazy Life of Politics
When everyone sees the Braves logo, they get reminded of Native American history, even if in a passing glance. We’ve seen it in our history with Chief Noc-A-Homa, later embedded into the fan base with the Chop and seen in many different variations along the way.
What if I told you that the name “Braves” didn’t even originate directly from Native Americans?
So if you’re now asking “what about the Atlanta Braves?” the imagery and the chop are racist and need to go. Oddly, the “Braves” are actually named after…New York City politicians.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) December 14, 2020
For those who didn’t know, the name Braves did, indeed, originate from a political party.
Back in 1912, many years before Babe Ruth would start tattooing baseballs, James Gaffney purchased the team from William H. Russell; a team that was then called the “Rustlers”. Gaffney, an alderman out of NYC and a member of the Tammany Hall movement, adopted the logo from that of his party. Within Tammany Hall, the executives were known as the “chiefs” and the operatives were known as the “braves”. Gaffney tied the hierarchy to the team he purchased, naming his “operatives” the Braves, and adopting the “Indian head” logo that associated with the party.
It’s also important to note that the Tammany Hall movement derived from Tamanend, a leader of the Lenape tribe. Their main goal was to “delight in all things Native American culture.” Gaffney attempted to weave the culture within baseball, therefore attempting to weave Native American culture within our culture.
Years later, times have changed and we see ourselves wanting to align with the appropriate representation of Native culture. Now is as important a time as any to unify, so properly appropriating the Native culture is as important as ever.
So: what does that mean for the Braves of today?
Where Are We Now?
The Cleveland Baseball Team is getting with the times, searching for a new nickname and dropping the “Indians” from their logo. Conversations have been happening around the baseball world about the appropriateness of the modern-day Braves name and logo. While the importance of correcting is in play, it’s also important to remember that the Braves are actively working with the Native chapters of Georgia to correctly display the Native culture within the team.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) November 30, 2020
In addition to standing with Kemp and the Georgia Council on American Indians, the Braves also partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, with all proceeds from select items in the braves.com shop heading to their Speakers Council.
These don’t solve any problems, but they are important first steps; they help pave the way to closeness and understanding. Now is as important as ever to be united. Working as hard as we can to properly respect and celebrate Native culture will help us understand and grow closer.
As of right now, there are no plans to drop the name “Braves” from the team; however, there is talk about removing the tomahawk. Updates will be provided upon any breaking news that may happen.