The Atlanta Braves did not distribute their traditional red foam tomahawks to fans before Wednesday’s Game 5 of their NL Division Series against the Cardinals following criticism by St. Louis pitcher Ryan Helsley.
The foam cutouts are used when Braves fans perform their Tomahawk Chop chant in games.
The Braves said in a statement the change is “out of respect for the concerns” expressed by Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation who said he finds the chant insulting.
Fans still used the chant with the Cardinals’ first batter, Dexter Fowler, at the plate. It didn’t bring the Braves good luck. Starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz recorded only one out as the Cardinals took a 10-0 first-inning lead.
The Braves said they were taking several steps to “reduce the Tomahawk Chop during our in-ballpark presentation today.” The team said it would not play the music that accompanies the chant when Helsey is in the game.
There is no apparent immediate shift in the team’s long-term stance on the promotion.
Helsley, a native of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, speaks the Cherokee language and is one of only a few Native Americans in the majors.
The reliever said last week he was shocked to hear the chant, a part of the Braves’ tradition since it was borrowed from Florida State in the early 1990s.
Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was insulted by what he saw and heard in Thursday’s series opener.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said.
“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 how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.”
The Braves said they will continue to examine the issue after the season.
“As stated earlier, we will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience,” the statement said. “We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”
One day after Helsley’s comments, the Braves issued their first statement on the matter , saying the team has “worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years.”
One of the Braves’ sponsors is Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos, which advertises its North Carolina locations under a video screen behind the left-field seats.