Braves plan to discuss tomahawk chop with American Indians

AP photo by John Amis / Atlanta Braves fans perform the chop with foam tomahawks during the ninth inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 2, 2016. It was the final game at Turner Field before the team moved to its present stadium, SunTrust Park.

ATLANTA - Atlanta Braves officials said they plan to have talks with Native Americans about the tomahawk chop chant that drew complaints and stoked controversy during the MLB playoffs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported team representatives will hold the talks during the offseason about deciding whether to keep the decades-old tomahawk chop tradition.

The Braves did not distribute their traditional red foam tomahawks to fans before Game 5 of their National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 9. Fans at SunTrust Park raise the tomahawks and thrust them forward in a chopping motion, led by music and graphics on the video boards.

The Braves said they removed the tomahawks for the final game of their series with St. Louis after Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley said he finds the chant insulting. Helsley is a member of the Cherokee Nation. He's one of only a few Native Americans in the majors.

"I think it's a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general," Helsley told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the NLDS.

"Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren't intellectual," Helsley said. "They are a lot more than that. It's not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It's not. It's about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we're perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that."

The NFL's Washington Redskins have also faced continuing criticism for their nickname, which critics say denigrates Native Americans. Fans of the same league's Kansas City Chiefs have also done the tomahawk chant in their stadium, drawing more criticism.

The chant has been a part of the Braves' tradition since it was borrowed from Florida State University in the early 1990s.

"It reduces Native Americans to a caricature and minimizes the contributions of Native peoples as equal citizens and human beings," Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd said in a statement released to the Atlanta newspaper.

The leader of the North Carolina-based Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians expressed similar sentiments. Principal Chief Richard Sneed said he has no problem with the team's name but that it's time to stop the chop.

"That's just so stereotypical, like old-school Hollywood," Chief Sneed said. "Let's move on. Find something else."

Asked about the long-term future of the chant, Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall referred to the team's earlier statements.

"We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience," read a statement issued on the day of the Braves' season-ending Game 5 defeat. "We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes."