The Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros kicked off the 2021 World Series on Tuesday night. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred was at Minute Maid Park for Game 1, and, prior to the game, he defended the Atlanta franchise's continued use of the "Braves" name and imagery. Manfred was responding to questions about whether the league would pressure them to change identities, the way other teams with Native American monikers have in recent years (including the Cleveland franchise, which will soon be known as the Guardians instead of the Indians).
"The Native American community in that region is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop," Manfred said, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. "For me, that's kind of the end of the story. In that market, we're taking into account the Native American community. ...In Atlanta, they've done a great job with the Native Americans. The Native American community is the most important group to decide whether it's appropriate or not."
The "chop" is the gesture Braves fans make throughout games that mimics the use of a tomahawk. The gesture has been criticized by Native Americans, including St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, who reason that it portrays Native Americans as caricatures. "It kind of devalues our Cherokee heritage and the Native-American history," Helsley said during the 2019 postseason. "Us as Cherokee native people went through a lot in this country." (The Braves responded by discouraging fans from doing the chop whenever he pitched during that series.)
Here's video of Manfred addressing reporters on the field in Houston:
Commissioner Rob Manfred says the Native Americans in the Atlanta Braves’ region are essentially OK with the Braves. Even if that were true, does #MLB have an obligation to be respectful to all Native Americans? Many, after all, think the Braves’ perpetuate racist stereotypes. pic.twitter.com/rMw0srXp0S— Jose de Jesus Ortiz (@OrtizKicks) October 26, 2021
Manfred's point about the region's Native Americans being supportive of the name and the chop should be scrutinized. As baseball scribe Craig Calcaterra noted in his newsletter, the Braves often point to the support they have from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians as irrefutable evidence that all Native Americans are on board with their identity. What tends to go unnoted is that the Eastern Band is technically a business partner of the Braves, as their casino serves as a corporate sponsor of the team. (And even the Eastern Band has criticized the franchise's use of stereotypical "war music.")
On Wednesday, the National Congress of American Indians released a statement, as shared by The Athletic's Evan Drellich. Within the release, the NCAI criticized Manfred's comments and called upon FOX to refuse to air fans performing the chop. Here's the statement in whole:
There's no inherent reason why the Braves name or the chop should be viewed as sacrosanct properties. The "Braves" moniker has been used since 1941, but the franchise has also gone by names like the "Bees" and the "Doves." (Our Dayn Perry opined in January that Atlanta should change its name to the "Hammers" as a tribute to the late Hank Aaron.) The chop, meanwhile, is a relatively new addition to the franchise's identity, having grown in popularity during the 1991 season, per the New York Times.