For the record, I moved away from Georgia (where I had spent all but a few years of my life) at the end of 1994, just three years after the Atlanta Braves and their fans adopted the “tomahawk chop” as a gesture of support and encouragement for the team. I didn’t think about it a lot other than observing that at least the team had earlier taken down the ludicrous teepee in the left-field stands inhabited by “Chief Noc-a-Homa,” who got out and did what was purportedly a Native American dance every time the home team called Dr. Long Ball.
I observed the off-and-on controversy over the chop from a distance, but did occasionally wonder if, given the state’s history, a professional sports team from Georgia might want to be a tad less oafish about racially sensitive matters. I mean, there was this legacy of slavery, the insanely destructive War for White Supremacy (a.k.a. Civil War), the white terrorism that thwarted Reconstruction, and a near-century of Jim Crow. And the Peach State outdid its proto-Confederate southern cousins in the brutal and greedy way it treated its large Native population.
But more fundamental even than Georgia’s megaracist history, the practice of mocking and offending Native Americans, even in the relatively innocent context of baseball, struck me as violating the chief behavioral principle with which I was raised by a very southern family: being polite and not acting ugly. Being rude to strangers was something those rude Yankees — bless their hearts — were prone to do because they didn’t know better. So it did surprise me a bit when the Braves kept on with this brand-new “tradition” once it became clear it offended people that had suffered enough at the hands of Georgians.
But I sure didn’t anticipate this level of boorish behavior (as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
Georgia conservatives knocked the Atlanta Braves for pivoting from the “tomahawk chop” chant ahead of Wednesday’s humiliating Game 5 playoff defeat against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The team didn’t distribute the trademark foam tomahawks to fans at the decisive National League Division series game and took measures to reduce the chopping chant used to fire up the crowd after Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley raised concerns.
You should know this about Helsley:
Helsley, a 25-year-old rookie, is from Tahlequah, Okla. His grandfather was full-blooded Cherokee and the family has deep roots in the heart of Cherokee Nation.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Disptach before Game 2 on Friday. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. 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.
I will note again that Georgians, as the heirs of those responsible for the Trail of Tears, ought to feel a particular obligation to show some respect to Cherokees. But to Georgia Republicans, that’s all backward: Downplaying (not banning, but simply downplaying) the chop was deeply offensive to … to what? The right to be “politically incorrect,” as they love to say?
Debbie Dooley, a Georgia tea party organizer, said the Braves “jinxed itself by catering to a politically correct snowflake” and suggested the team change its name to “Atlanta Snowflakes.”
Erick Erickson, the conservative commentator, highlighted images of fans swinging oversized tomahawks.
“Braves refuse to go with the Tomahawk Chop and get crushed on the field,” Erickson wrote. “Fitting and embarrassing.”
These comments were, it seems, the tip of an iceberg of contempt for the Braves’ overdue effort to be nice and not act ugly.
“This. Is. Painful,” tweeted state Rep. Trey Kelley, one of the top Republicans in the Georgia House, midway through the team’s first-inning implosion. “Have to feel this is karma for the unjustified and rash decision to do away with foam tomahawks.”
His was not a fringe sentiment. Nick Ayers, the former top aide to Vice President Mike Pence and a veteran Georgia operative, had a curt reaction to the team’s first-inning struggles.
“Maybe don’t ban the tomahawk chop next time?”
It’s unclear what these people are suggesting occurred. Did God (or “karma”) turn on ESPN and get upset about too little chop and smite the Braves? Did one Braves player turn to another and say, “Not enough racism in the stands tonight; let’s throw the game!”
Even if you don’t share my views about the chop and similar gestures, are they really mandatory? Is it important to Georgia Republicans that their constituents be as offensive as possible?
I don’t know, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Georgia Republicans love a rude and foul-mouthed Yankee who says things every other hour that, according to my Southern Baptist upbringing, would earn a one-way ticket to hell. Indeed, they seem to love him precisely because he’s the sort of man we’ve been told to avoid like a drunk-driver pulling into a I-75 rest stop at 3 a.m. And now it seems they are beginning to value hatefulness as a virtue in itself.
Bless their hearts.