Early in the National League Division Series, St. Louis Cardinals reliever of Cherokee descent Ryan Helsley expressed disappointment at the Atlanta Braves for encouraging fans to swing a foam tomahawk and chant. The Braves heard the complaint about their decades-long tradition and took action to address it.
The Braves announced Wednesday they would “reduce” the tomahawk chop.
They refrained from distributing free foam tomahawks, as they did before Games 1 and 2 at SunTrust Park, and said they would not play “chop-related” graphics or music if Helsley made an appearance in the finale of the best-of-five series. But they stopped short of removing all references to the chop, adding that they will postpone further changes pending the conclusion of the postseason and a potential conversation with “those in the Native American community.”
“We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand,” they said in a news release.
Braves fans adopted the war chant and chop, which originated at Florida State University, when Deion Sanders began playing for the Braves in 1991 as a nod to his past. He played football and baseball and ran track in Tallahassee in the mid-1980s.
The tradition persisted beyond Sanders’ tenure in Atlanta, which ended in 1994. These days, the words “Chop On” are plastered on a wall outside the main team store on the stadium’s lower concourse. The same motto is the Braves’ official hashtag on Twitter. A seating section behind the right-field fence bears the name “Below the Chop” with an image of a red tomahawk. A few hundred feet above that is a three-piece sign shaped like tomahawks that lights up when the chant music is played on the stadium speakers.
With the Braves trailing the Cardinals by 10 runs in the first inning, a small group started the chant. The stadium’s in-game entertainment staff encouraged the crowd to chant and chop with graphics and music after the Braves put two runners on base in the inning.
No boost ensued. The Cardinals had increased their lead to 13-0 by the fourth inning.