After Three Decades, Controversial Gesture Still Appears at Atlanta Braves Games

Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley is the latest to raise concerns over the “tomahawk chop”

Braves fans
Atlanta Braves fans enacting the controversial "tomahawk chop."
Kyle James/Creative Commons

For longer than many current baseball players have been alive, many Atlanta Braves fans have engaged in the “Tomahawk Chop” at games. Meant to increase the home team’s enthusiasm for the game, the gesture has also sparked controversy over questions of racism and representation — one of the higher-profile examples of this debate going on across multiple leagues and sports.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is the latest person to raise concerns over the gesture. Helsley voiced his objections in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, calling it “a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general.”

The Braves organization has responded to Helsley’s criticisms; according to a report from ESPN, they’ve agreed to look into the gesture and how it’s perceived.

“Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country,” the team said Saturday in a statement. “We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the in-game experience, and look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community once the season comes to an end.”

The same gesture has been used elsewhere — notably, by fans of the Florida State University football team, which has a formal relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The gesture has become ingrained in the Braves’ fan culture, so much so that an animatronic cow in the stadium promoting Chik-Fil-A also does the “tomahawk chop.”

Given the team’s response, Helsley’s criticisms may have hit home — perhaps his comments will be the tipping point in an ongoing debate over one of the most contentious gestures in contemporary sports.

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