In the 2021 World Series championship game between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros, shortstop Dansby Swanson connected with first baseman Freddie Freeman to make the winning out. The Braves held their trophy high, celebrating their first national championship in 26 years. But their celebration left a sour taste in the mouths of many.
The Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Florida State Seminoles all celebrate the same way: with the tomahawk chop. A tomahawk is an axe that originates from many Indigenous tribes in America. Fans celebrate with an arm chopping motion mimicking the motion of chopping something with an axe. The Braves have the tomahawks on their jerseys, and often hand out red foam tomahawks for fans to use during the celebration.
After being asked to discourage fans from using “the chop,” Major League Baseball released a statement: “The Native American community in that region is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the Chop,” Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said.
However, the National Congress of American Indians made a statement contradicting Manfred’s claim: “In our discussions with the Atlanta Braves, we have repeatedly and unequivocally made our position clear — Native people are not mascots, and degrading rituals like the ‘tomahawk chop’ that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society,” president Fawn Sharp said.
Other players have spoken up too. In 2019, St. Louis Cardinals player and member of the Cherokee Nation, Ryan Helsley, spoke up. “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,” Helsley said. While the Braves stopped the tomahawk chop during St. Louis Cardinals games for the rest of the season, the tradition has returned.
This isn’t the first time teams have been called out for portrayals of Native Americans that are seen as offensive. The MLB’s Cleveland Guardians, formerly the Cleveland Indians, removed a logo with a native caricature in 2019, and changed their name in June 2021. Similarly, the National Football League’s Washington Football Team, formerly the Washington Redskins, changed their name in July of 2020.
In Nebraska, 22 NSAA schools currently have Native American mascots, those being the Warriors, Indians, Chiefs, Braves and Chieftains. Only four of these schools are on Native American reservations. “There’s a lot of history behind our mascot, and educating the students and staff about it will change their perspective on whether or not to change it,” said Bellevue East Chieftain, senior Marissa Kelly.
Most recently, Millard South switched its mascot from an American Indian to a Patriot in 2000. Before that, in 1971, the University of Nebraska at Omaha switched its mascot from an American Indian to a Maverick. Local businesses are also beginning to make the switch, as Mutual of Omaha changed its logo from a portrait of a Native American to a lion in November of 2020.