Unbelievable!! a Star Atlanta player just announce resignation from the team facing’….

Last Friday, Ryan Helsley could have said nothing.

A 25-year-old rookie pitcher in the relief rotation for the St. Louis Cardinals, Helsley is currently playing in his first-ever Major League Baseball playoff series, against the Atlanta Braves. After the Cardinals claimed Game 1 last Thursday night in Atlanta, Helsley could have put his head down and just receded into the background. He didn’t, and thank goodness for it.

Helsley is a citizen of Cherokee Nation, and after witnessing the Atlanta home crowd’s infamous tomahawk chop and chant up close—in which fans raise their elbows up and chop their arms down while imitating a made-up Native war chant—he told the St. Louis Dispatch exactly how he felt watching the fans pretend to be their imagined version of him and other Natives.

“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 it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that… That’s the disappointing part. That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”

The Braves, in response, voiced their concern. On Saturday, the team released a statement claiming that it is taking Helsley’s concerns “seriously,” adding that it will “continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand.” It was a say-nothing series of words, clearly forced into being by the simple fact that it’s a bad look to have a Native person on an opposing team, in the playoffs, call them out for their foot-dragging. Just this past spring, the Braves, supposedly in the middle of undefined efforts to curtail their fans’ continued use of the motion and chant at home games, designed, printed, and sold t-shirts in the official team store that featured basic instructions for fans on how to do the tomahawk chop. Given the fact that this feat of fandom barely requires instructions—just show up and follow along with the crowd—it was hardly an accidental branding decision.

“The Braves” is a vague, amorphous team name, but its reference has always been crystal clear. In 1912, the team, then located in Boston, were bought by James Gaffney, a member of Tammany Hall, which chose to use a nondescript Native chief as their own symbol. Gaffney changed the team name from Rustlers to Braves and changed the logo to that of a Native man wearing an eagle-feather headdress.

As the team moved to Milwaukee and then Atlanta, the name and the logo moved with it. In 1983, the Braves retired their racist mascot, Chief Noc-A-Homa, a character for whom the team went as far as to build a teepee in the left field bleachers of Fulton County Stadium; the mascot would perform what could only loosely be described as a war dance whenever a Braves player hit a home run. But the team lost 19 of its next 21 games and Chief Noc-A-Homa and his teepee were brought back at the behest of the fans. The team finally retired him for good in 1986.

Three years later, the logo was changed to a cursive stenciling of the word “Braves,” which sat above a tomahawk. (The stadium mascot Atlanta used at home games for the next three decades was one by the name of Homer, a human-like character with a baseball for a head that wore a Braves uniform, a clear rip-off of Mr. Met. The team recently updated their mascot to a character called Blooper, a clear rip-off of the Phillie Phanatic.) The discontinuation of Chief Noc-A-Homa and the logo alteration were supposed to be the first steps toward the franchise understanding and correcting its decades-long capitalization on harmful pseudo-Native imagery; instead, it was followed by a quick backwards hop that has extended all the way into the 2019 playoffs.

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