The New York Mets’ troubles aren’t confined to their record as of last week’s All-Star break, which made the .500 Phillies look downright hopeful. The team also made the mistake of scheduling a Native American Heritage Night for this week — on the day of a game against the tomahawk-chopping Atlanta Braves.
After belatedly discovering the unfortunate coincidence, the team tried to dial back the festivities, which were being organized in partnership with the New York-based American Indian Community House. The Mets, sometimes known as the Amazin’s, wanted to avoid causing offense. What’s amazing is that they wanted to avoid offending the Braves.
The Mets asked the Indian group to avoid singing, dancing, and other activities that might be seen as acts of protest against the Braves’ name and customs. The group ultimately withdrew from the event.
The incident was widely played as another embarrassment for the Mets’ improbably hapless organization, which of course it was. But the greater problem is the continued use of team names, images, and traditions that caricature and demean the nation’s original inhabitants. As evidenced by the Mets’ concern for the Braves rather than actual American Indians, the backwardness of these practices is rivaled only by their broad acceptance.
The Braves’ name, which turned 100 last year, is an antiquated term for a male Indian warrior. Until the 1980s, the team also featured a mascot named Chief Noc-A-Homa (i.e. “Knock a Homer”) housed in a tepee in the bleachers. To this day, it still uses a tomahawk logo and encourages its fans’ infamous en masse chopping and chanting. It’s a measure of how widespread such buffoonery remains that the Braves didn’t invent the chop; they borrowed it from the Florida State Seminoles, via Deion Sanders, in the early 1990s.
Some college and many high school teams continue to use Indian names, imagery, and mascots, honors often confined to the animal kingdom. So do baseball’s Cleveland Indians — who, unlike Atlanta, have yet to remove a hideously grinning savage from their team’s official imagery — and of course football’s Washington Redskins, named for an outright racial slur. Indians aren’t the only minority that has been so casually maligned by American athletics, but they are the only group that still is.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Stanford ceased to call its teams the Indians in 1972 — some 20 years before Braves fans started brandishing their tomahawks. Numerous colleges followed suit, partly thanks to the encouragement of the NCAA. And several professional teams, such as basketball’s Golden State (formerly Philadelphia) Warriors, have eliminated all or most of the racial connotations once associated with their names.
Of course, no one can deprive Braves fans of their right to chant and chop under the First (or possibly Second) Amendment. But we shouldn’t stop appealing to their human decency. Extending such decency to all humans would be brave indeed.
The Philadelphia Inquirer