"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

I Come To Bury The Tomahawk Chop, Not To Praise It

This topic seems to get brought up every season at some point, but nothing ever comes of it. I was reminded of it again during last night’s NLDS game, when I kept trying to root for the Braves. Whenever I started to feel a little enthusiasm, the crowd would start up with the Tomahawk Chop, and it was quickly snuffed out.

Look: I know it’s a tradition; I know the vast majority of people who do that chant, or wear caricatured Cleveland Indians mascot gear, are not racist and have no actual problem with Native Americans. But it’s well past time for those fans, and those teams, to demonstrate that by knocking this stuff off. Even if no great harm is being done now, these are the vestigial remains of a very real racism which has done plenty of harm, and I don’t understand why anyone would want to associate themselves with it. Does the pleasure of tradition really outweigh the ickiness of taking part, however briefly, in that kind of creaky, ugly, outdated world view?

The usual response to this argument is “lighten up,” and sure, there are bigger problems in the world today. But words have power, and so does iconography, and the argument “I just like doing this chant” simply doesn’t outweigh the negatives of perpetuating trite racist stereotypes.  I know a lot of great Braves fans, and none of them are enthusiastic Tomahawk Choppers; I know a few Indians fans, and none of them are comfortable with Chief Wahoo. This doesn’t seem to negatively impact their enjoyment of (or, more recently, hair-pulling frustration with) their team.

Imagine that a team had a Jewish caricature for a mascot. And that their traditional chant involved counting money. It’s actually not easy to picture because it would never, ever fly today, and I’m not sure why this is considered all that different. Last night I made the mistake of looking for a Jewish caricature to illustrate this point, and I came across a couple. One is part of a clever series at a website called Honor Indians, which along with imaginary team logos for “The Cincinnati Rednecks” and “The L.A. Wetbacks” is making an argument against the use of Indian mascots:

The other image I found is not making a satirical point. It’s from a cesspool of a white supremacist site which, for obvious reasons, I’m not going to link to:

Morbid curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t help reading a few posts – about Jews ruining the Aryan Nation, “muds,” “wetbacks,” and a lot worse; how seeing white women with black men made the writer want to castrate the men and chop off the women’s heads; honoring the anniversary of Hitler’s coup; debating the feasibility of ethnic cleansing in America today.

To be clear, this is the site of a fringe sociopath and, OBVIOUSLY, in no way reflects the views of Braves or Indians fans. And it’s exactly because that kind of thinking – the kind that represents a race of people as an ugly little cartoon, or takes the centuries-old reduction of Native Americans into scalping warriors and turns it into a cheer – in no way reflects the views of fans that we should distance ourselves from it whenever we have the chance. No matter how innocent it might have become over the years, that’s just not a tradition worth carrying on.

Time to get creative, Braves fans – and well past time to ditch the Chop.


1 Diane Firstman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 10:28 am

As an alum of St. John's University (pre-mascot change), I can understand both sides of the argument.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 12, 2010 10:41 am

Wonder why, in all the celebration of Cox's retirement, nobody has mentioned that he's a wife beater.

3 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 10:46 am

[2] Alex, I was wondering about that too, but I can't remember the details of what happened - was there a vague "domestic dispute" or do we actually know that he hit his wife?

4 Just Fair   ~  Oct 12, 2010 10:47 am

My hometown team switched from Chiefs to Patriots about 15 years ago. Nothing like switching names to be pc. And we all know how patriotic the colonists were to the Indians. This argument tends to make my head spin.

5 ny2ca2dc   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:08 am

Good job Spanner, thanks. The Washington Redskins' name and iconography make it even harder for me, a DC transplant, to support the team (I don't). At least their logo is a hell of a lot more respectful than Cleveland's, but just the name 'redskins' is obviously vile. Emma, you should be rooting for the Giants anyways, though!

Why didn't Ted Turner change the name when he owned the Braves?

[4] I don't understand your statement

6 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:15 am

Couldn't agree more. My fifteen year old said the same yesterday, asking me "isn't the chop cheer racist?" He then brought up the Cleveland Indians caricature next. There is no longer any reason to maintain these vestiges of our racist past.

I would suspect if there is a need to use these type of mascots, then maybe it could be expressed as an honor to a noble tradition, as in how "The Trojans" are used today. But I believe that the treatment of Native Americans by our founding fathers and pioneers is still too recent of history to exploit them in any way. Especially in Georgia, where the Cherokee and other tribes were removed by force from lands guaranteed by treaty upheld by the Supreme Court but disregarded by local law and President Jackson at the time. Enough already, a reminder of ethic cleansing does not have to continue into the 21st century.

7 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:22 am

[6] Ooops, should be "ethnic cleansing" ,but ethic ironically works as well.

8 Mattpat11   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:23 am


9 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:37 am

[8] Should the Bari, Italy soccer team be nicknamed the Mussolinis because he made the trains run on time?

10 seamus   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:48 am

The struggle for self-autonomy after centuries of racism is a battle Native Americans are still fighting today. While it may not be the same type of racism we saw in the past (for the most part), we are still looking the other way quite often when Native American lands are used for projects that the tribes don't support. I agree with you wholeheartedly Emma and this is really quite well represented writing. I really like your writing a lot in general though so... I was wondering to what extent yesterday being Columbus day might have started your thought process rolling on this.

11 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:53 am

[1] Diane, I'd actually be curious to hear your take on the other side of this argument.

12 donkey   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:54 am

FWIW, the Braves only started the Chop when Deion Sanders brought it from his Florida State days, and the FSU Seminoles have official permission to use the Seminole name from Seminole tribes both in Florida and Oklahoma.

13 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:54 am

Washington of all places really needs help naming its teams. The Bullets was hilarious until they(did a body count and) wised up. Now, listening to the radio the other day, I kid you not, a guy on either WFAN or ESPN called the Nationals, the Natsies. I hope that one hasn't caught on inside the Beltway, or, you know, anywhere actual people breathe.

As for the chop, chief wahoo, and the like: If Native Americans are offended by these things, by all means, do away with them already. But as a white man who lives (in NJ) and works on land (Manhattan) that was plundered from Indians (or purchased from them for a mere bag of shells) I think it would be hypocritical of me to get worked up over team mascots, nicknames, and mindless groupthink chants. I'm not saying the Indian iconography we're talking about is good, or offensive. What I'm saying is who are we to judge the fans that embrace it, when our brownstones, and bi-levels, bodegas and strip malls have replaced teepees and such -under the most hostile circumstances.

14 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:06 pm

3) There was a domestic dispute after the 95 playoffs I believe. Mrs. Cox later dropped the charges. I can look into that though.

15 monkeypants   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:08 pm

Yep, it's that time of year, when the overused word "racist" gets trotted out with regards to team names and mascots. I have to be honest, I simply do not see what is so offensive about the Tomahawk Chop Chant: it's a stylized chant meant to sound vaguely "Indian" (or Native American, if you prefer)...which sounds remarkable like the chanting I hear out of my university office window when the First Nations (= Native American in Canada) celebration is held on campus...by members of one tribe or another. And the chopping motion of the hand is meant to invoke the chopping action of braves (= warriors, noted for their...bravery and martial prowess and virtue), who used...tomahawks (among other weapons).

I don't see how the name Braves is offensive, any more than Warriors or Patriots or Minutemen or Trojans or Spartans. Nor do I understand how the name Indians is racist, unless the term is itself inherently racist (which it does not seem to be, though Native American is the PC term of choice these days). I mean, how is Indians any more offensive than Fighting Irish?

Now, the Chief Wahoo mascot does strike me as more or less offensive...in that cartoonish way that the stylized fat Italian guy on the boxes of your local pizza delivery joint is offensive...if I (as an Italian-American) bothered to get worked up about stylized cartoonish images that do not seem to invoke an inherently offensive message (the fat Italian guy is fat because he eats pasta, get it? It's not like depicting all Germans with a Hitler mustache)...is the grinning Indian offensive? Maybe..I don't have a dog in this fight.

The most glaring case, though, is the Redskins team name, which I cannot imagine is anything but offensive. However, neither of their mascots/helmet symbols strike me as offensive: either the stately warrior Indian in profile, depicted more or less "accurately" (not a grinning cartoon), or the spear (meant to invoke, again, martial spirit and virtue).

Seriously, not all stylized images or group names are "racist", let alone offensive. Unless we want to have a serious discussion about the Yankees own offensive team name.

16 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:09 pm

[13] You can't undue what was done, but you don't have to revel in it today. It is disrespectful to continue degrading the vanquished by exploiting imagery from the past. I'm offended by it, and it disregards American ideals.

17 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:09 pm

[13] Sure, Sliced, that's a fair point. But it's not like I can give Manhattan back to the Lenapes, or undo hundreds of years of history. We all have to live in the world we're born into, but chants and mascots are something we DO have control over, so it seems like we might as well do the right thing there - even if, yes, it is kinda putting a band-aid on a gaping chest wound.

18 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:09 pm

14) Sorry, it was early 95.


19 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:11 pm

[12] Thankfully, Deion left the chop inside his bag of tricks when he was a pre-Braves New York Yankee. That one definitely would not have caught on in the 80% empty Stadium. Though I imagine the disengaged but faithful fans who smoked joints in the upper deck back in the early 90s probably would have tried it.

20 Matt Blankman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:11 pm

[1] The trouble with St. John's is that they really had no reason to change the name - they were the Redmen because they were Jesuits, not Native Americans. I suppose we should applaud their sensitivity, but I think they were being pre-emptively PC.

That said, Emma, I think you've done about the best job I've seen of explaining why these mascots and "traditions" need to go.

21 jimmybart   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:12 pm

How about dropping the chop because it's annoying as hell????

22 Matt Blankman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:13 pm

[2] Alex, you'd best tweet that sentiment before someone beats you to it. (Maybe a poor choice of words there?)

23 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:17 pm

[15] Don't you see a difference, though, between the Italian owners of a pizza place going with a silly cartoon Italian guy, and white fans/owners of a baseball team appropriating Native American stereotypes? The history of Italians in America is very, very different from the history of Native Americans in America.

It matters who's saying these things. I can easily see the "Milwaukee Jew Crew" logo being semi-ironically embraced by a Jewish softball team in my Brooklyn neighborhood, for example... That's not gonna work for gentiles in Austria.

Obviously, I can't speak for Native Americans... I'm sure some are bothered by these things and some aren't. I can only say that personally I find it disturbing.

24 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:23 pm

[20] Ah - well that is, indeed, silly and overly PC.

Reminds me of the poor official in DC a few years back who had to resign because he used the word "niggardly." Gah.

25 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:23 pm

[16] but you're not offended by highways, titty bars, gas stations, convenience stores that now stand on Indian land? talk about reveling in what was done.

[17] the band-aid on the gaping chest wound is right, and yes, we have to live in our world, but I don't think it's up to us as Yankee fans to tell Indians, Braves, Redskins etc. fans how to root for their teams. As thoughtful and engaged citizens we can try to explain why their Indian mascots, chants, and team names can be perceived as offensive, but we're in no position to control them. Nor do I think we should want to control them. I'm not insensitive to this issue in any way, but I'm not in touch with it either. Are Native Americans generally outraged/hurt/offended by the chop, chief wahoo, etc?

26 Matt Blankman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:24 pm

[24] Although Diane may be right that they had an "indian" mascot at one time, which I believe they did. Why, I have no idea.

27 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:26 pm

[15] but monkeypants, don't tell me you are not offended by the Rally Monkey. Every baseball fan this side of the missing link has to be offended by that abomination.

28 monkeypants   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:26 pm

[23] No, I don't see the difference. Either an image or phrase is "racist" to its audience or it is not. Even if, as you contend, the context determines the racism, that only matters if the audience is in on the context. How do I know that the pizza joint is owned by Italians and not some other ethnic group (in fact, that you assumed it was owned by Italians could be construed as...racist!)?

And in any case, are you telling me that if, say, the a Native American owned the Redskins, the name would suddenly be OK because it might be meant to ironic? I have trouble with that line of argument.

Lastly, you say that you can't speak for Native Americans, and yet that is precisely what you are doing.

29 Matt Blankman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:27 pm

Okay, they're not jesuits, they're Vincentians,but I'm not totally off-base. From wikipedia:

"Until 1994, the St. John's mascot was the Redmen, which referenced the red uniforms worn by the university in competition. However, the name was interpreted as a Native American reference in the 1960s, and was changed to the Red Storm after mounting pressure on colleges and universities to adopt names more sensitive to Native American culture.[57][58] The Redmen name still remains popular among fans, however, as does the pejorative "Johnnies"."

30 monkeypants   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:27 pm

[27] Well sure, we can all agree on that!

31 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:28 pm

as someone who watched a lot of Big East basketball back in St. John's hey day, I was most offended by Lou Carnesecca's sweaters.

32 Matt Blankman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:30 pm

[31] Carnesecca, Bill Cosby...the mid 80s were halcyon days for bad sweaters.

33 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:31 pm

[25] Well, that's all I'm doing - trying to explain why I'm bothered by this stuff. Legally, of course they have the right to do what they want. Ethically I'm not so sure, and I can't control anyone else's rooting habits, but can try to persuade them.

34 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:33 pm

[32] true, but the Coz could pull off the bad sweater. Lou looked like a Thanksgiving parade float that was about to explode from the highly combustible combination of too much color, and helium.

35 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:33 pm

[33] keep fighting the good fight then, sister!

36 The Hawk   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:34 pm

What, is the Banter's hit count going down or something?

I keed I keed. Oops, that may be an insensitive way of putting it.

Here's how I see it:

Tomahawk chop: Incredibly lame, but not terribly insulting

Chief Wahoo: Terribly insulting

The Redskins (name, not team itself): Terribly insulting

Fat Italians on pizza boxes: What [23] said. I mean really.

37 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:40 pm

I need a nap.
I also need a baseball game.
and to brush my teeth.
Not at all in this order.

38 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:41 pm

By the way, guys, thanks for being civil in your arguments. That's why I love the Banter. This would've degenerated into name calling at a looooot of other sites.

39 Mattpat11   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:43 pm

[9] Eh. Its sports. I watch sports to get away from the real world. I have no interest in going out of my way to get offended while I'm trying to enjoy a break from reality.

40 RIYank   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:47 pm

I'm with The Hawk [36] on this one. In fact, the lameness of the chop is so excruciating that I can't see through it to decide whether it's offensive or not. It really makes me cringe. Like "Sweet Caroline".

[28] The issue is really how it is reasonably perceived; but that is, obviously, partly a matter of how it seems to be intended. A Mel Brooks character can make a remark about Jews that's just plain funny, whereas some Spike Lee character making the same remark could be still funny but also very uncomfortable. (And I really am talking about their characters, not about Mel or Spike.)

41 seamus   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:49 pm

[40] "Sweet Caroline" is the Pitt football team fight song. no really. They even throw in a "Pitt Pitt Pitt" when they play it at beginning of the fourth quarter of every game.

42 mcleasa   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:50 pm

Can we ban the Crusaders, the Orangemen and the Fighting Irish after we ban the Chop?

While I do take issue with white people getting offended on behalf of others, I guess it's pretty hard to defend the Chop. But let's not confuse banning a trivial ritual at a baseball game with doing anything meaningful for Native American communities.

43 Sliced Bread   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:52 pm

[40] funny, I was going to start my first post saying "the chop is too stupid to be racist"- but I didn't want to sound like I'm saying racism is smart. You just nailed what I was thinking.

[38] oh, screw you, Little Miss Always Smart & Funny.

44 seamus   ~  Oct 12, 2010 12:56 pm

[42] Emma isn't saying anything that I haven't heard directly from Native Americans before. Even so, why can't she point out what is obviously racist? Does this mean men can't point out sexist items or that straight folks can't point out obviously homophobic remarks? Since Native Americans are now a small percentage of our population, changing racist stereotypes isn't going to happen unless people other than Native Americans speak out in addition to the Native Americans who already choose to do so.

45 monkeypants   ~  Oct 12, 2010 1:02 pm

[40] The issue is really how it is reasonably perceived...

Yes, though obviously different groups may reasonable perceive the same text differently, or at least reasonably be assumed to perceive differently. But this line of argument may, ironically, work against those who worry that the Chop or the Braves or even Chief Wahoo is offensive. For example, as we move farther from a time when most people might recognize a visual depiction of a Native American as having negative stereotypic features, the less "offensive" the image becomes. In other words, in another generation (potentially) Chief Wahoo will stop being offensive because no one will know that his features are negative stereotypes: instead, he will be a funny little cartoon character like the Fighting Irish mascot.

Similarly, as more and more people grow up in an educational system that presents Native Americans in a much more positive light, fewer and fewer people will hear the Chop Chant and instinctively think "red man scalping white man"...instead, they will think "oooh, brave and noble warriors."

46 boslaw   ~  Oct 12, 2010 1:04 pm

Does anyone today actually use any of these terms (reds, redskins, injuns, etc.) to refer to native americans in a derogatory context? If not, then have these terms lost their derogatory connotations and can anyone today reasonably still be offended by their use? Other than extremists, no one today runs around using the term Hebe, kike, etc. - when those terms are actually uttered, they're all the more jarring and insulting. But many people today still use Indians, Redskins, Reds, Braves, all in a sports context. They've become sports team names, not derogatory terms.

Of course I have no native american ancestors and I don't know how I'd feel about the terms if I was actually a member of the tribe, so to speak. I just don't hear much of an outcry about these names from actually affected groups. I can assure you that if a new sports team was started tomorrow with the name New York Hebes, a day wouldn't go by before the protests started and those teams would be shut down. Therefore, I have to conclude that the affected groups don't care enough to be bothered by it, and if they don't neither should I.

I have 3 young children in public school. They know the term Indian was originally used because Columbus thought he was in India. They know that native americans prefer to be called Native Americans, not Indians. My children have no real basis to see Indian as anything more than a historical inaccuracy and a baseball team.

47 boslaw   ~  Oct 12, 2010 1:05 pm

[45] Exactly what I was trying to say - you said it more eloquently.

48 mcleasa   ~  Oct 12, 2010 1:07 pm

I don't see how it's any more "obviously racist" or offensive than naming your team the Crusaders, or after a protestant sectarian group.

If Native Americans are offended by it, then by all means ban it. But if they don't care, just like we seemingly don't care that teams are named the Crusaders, then what's the big deal?

49 ny2ca2dc   ~  Oct 12, 2010 1:12 pm

[15 & others] I'll just make this brief. It is one thing for members of group A to name their team after themselves in a self deprecating manner.

It is another thing entirely for members of group A to name their team in derogatory parody of group B. Especially when group A is historically and presently in a position of domination over group B, though that's really incidental.

Finally, this is a well know point of hurt and insult in the american indian community.

50 monkeypants   ~  Oct 12, 2010 1:21 pm

[49] OK, but can the members of Group A name their team after members or characteristics of Group A that members of Group B find offensive? For example, hypothetically, what if a group of Native Americans finds the team name "Cowboys" offensive, or some Muslims find the team name "Crusaders" offensive? Should those names be banned even if, say, there is no significant problem objection to the names among the respective Group A (i.e., Christian groups not finding Crusaders problematic)?

51 hiscross   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:07 pm

Gee, people actually think they stop racism by banning sport team names. I'm sure Yankee fans in Alabama would rather see that name changed to War Eagle or Crismom Tide. To be honest world peace and the end of racism won't happen until there peace in Jerusalem. That will happen when Jesus sits on his throne in the City of David.

52 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:11 pm

I don't see why you have to debate whether or not a word or name is offensive or if a group of people are offended by a name or whatever when that group has stated over and over again that they are offended by it.

I think the larger problem is not how offensive these words are, but the attitude of the people who use them versus the sympathies of the people those words were once and maybe still intended to marginalize. The power of words shift over time, but hardly ever disappear, much as matter can neither be created nor destroyed. The recurrance of that power or significance is inevitable when you are unknowing of their origins.

53 Bama Yankee   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:15 pm

[51] Easy now...let's not even joke about changing the Yankees to the War Eagles. ;-)

54 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:21 pm

I don't really understand the argument that this isn't any different than teams named after Italians or Irish or Protestants. Of course it is - it's about the history, and about who's doing the naming.

My friend emailed me to suggest that a team with "a badass Jewish mascot, like the Fighting Maccabees," might be embraced. I think that could only happen if the team's ownership were Jewish, though.

Anyway, I will agree that the Braves and their Chop aren't nearly as bad as the Redskins or Chief Wahoo. Same issue, but a different scale.

In conclusion I refer you to the great Flip Flop Fly Ball:


55 Emma Span   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:23 pm

[51] You don't happen to have his number, do you?

56 thelarmis   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:23 pm

i hate the chop. i can't stand it when i see it on tv, hear it on the radio or experience it live in person at The Ted. i think they took it from the Florida State Seminoles (semen holes!). either way, it's annoying and silly.

i can giggle at the Jew Crew, 'coz, well, you know, i'm a 5-10-23. : )

huh, that's news to me about the bobby cox domestic dispute. crap, that sucks.

57 Bama Yankee   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:23 pm

[46] "They know that native americans prefer to be called Native Americans, not Indians."

There is actually a large group (surveys have shown as many as 50%) actually prefer to be called "American Indians" instead of "Native Americans"

58 thelarmis   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:24 pm

[56] dammit, 10-5-23. i misspelled!

59 RIYank   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:27 pm

Gee, people actually think they stop racism by banning sport team names.

Wait, who said that? Just give the comment number, I'll go read it. (I think this is a straw man, in case that's not obvious.)

Also, a couple of times someone has said something about "banning" a name. There's no question of banning anything. Nobody has banned the word "nigger", either. Get it? (I decided there's no point in explaining this; if it's not obvious, then my task is hopeless.)

60 Diane Firstman   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:29 pm

While we're (sort of) on this topic, let me drop in a hearty recommendation for this documentary:


(and you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the quality of the research that went into it)

61 thelarmis   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:35 pm

[60] i love the stitching on the baseball, so clever!

62 Bama Yankee   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:42 pm

[2] Alex, I'm no fan of Bobby Cox and certainly don't condone the fact that abused his wife 15 years ago. But, why should one mistake from his distant past (I'm not aware of other instances where he abused his wife) be brought up now? I mean, saying "he's a wife beater" seems to imply an ongoing pattern of abuse that doesn't match the facts in my opinion.

63 seamus   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:43 pm

[62] well, ok, why don't they mention he is a mouth breather though?

64 thelarmis   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:48 pm

[62] the link said that his wife pam claimed violence was an issue before this specific incident.

65 thelarmis   ~  Oct 12, 2010 2:53 pm

this is the first i've heard of bobby cox's domestic disputes. never heard a mention of it since i'm in atlanta; moved here '96. he's just a complete icon in this city. i've never cared for his managing much, but i always liked him okay. not so much, anymore...

66 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:01 pm

62) Good point and I stand corrected. "Wife beater" is too strong an accusation. Let me change that and say I'm surprised that nobody brought up this very real charge in the celebration of the man. My point is that spousal abuse is a charge that is too easily overlooked by the sporting public and that's a shame.

But I was playing moralist there and that's always a tricky thing.

67 williamnyy23   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:04 pm

Not to pile on Cox, but he also had a "spitting incident" in his first go round with the Braves, but unlike Roberto Alomar, the incident didn't follow him throughout his career.

As for the tomahawk chop, et. al, I pretty much agree with everything monkeypants had to say, so don't have much to add.

68 joaquin13   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:06 pm

Though it has been said before, you say it eloquently and it is an important thought to convey, so thank you Emma. These comments show how dedicated many people are to maintaining and defending the status quo in conscious and subconscious ways. It is as if some commenters are asking for a personal letter from every First Nations man, woman, and child expressly stating their offense at these demonstrations of racism before they are willing to say it is offensive for people to dress up in war paint and headdresses while doing the tomahawk chop at a Braves game. If one person from that group says they aren’t offended by these displays then anyone who is must be overly sensitive. I would imagine that those who are arguing that it is okay to continue using the chop are also the same people who would turn around and say, “can’t you take a joke?” These are the markings of the modern racist; a person who does not espouse racist beliefs, nor would they admit to having racist beliefs to others or even to themselves. It is easy to identify and defend against racists who know they are racist and are willing to put their racist views out there for the whole world to see. It is a much harder task to take on racism in everyday people, people like you and me who have learned to abhor racism so much that we can’t confront our own racist beliefs because of the damage it does to our self-conception to think of ourselves as racist.

We are all prejudiced and racist and sexist in some way, shape, or form.

We have all absorbed these lessons just by living our lives in a dominant culture and stereotyping happens automatically before we even have a chance to perceive it (check out John Bargh’s work “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being”). The job of people who hope to combat racism (and I truly believe the people engaging in this debate in the comment section hope to combat racism, even those arguing on the side of the chop being harmless) is not to deny the racist aspects of our selves, but rather to confront them and to understand how they have an impact on our behavior and the many ways they come out in seemingly innocuous ways.

Making people feel as if they are an inferior other happens all the time and one of the most hurtful defenses of this “othering” is the accusation that a person who feels offense is uptight and simply can’t take a joke. Modern racists inevitably end up mocking the “PC police” for taking the fun out of everything and sanitizing the world. I have never encountered a better argument in favor of maintaining the status quo than “lighten up.”

Besides, if you can’t be clever or funny or interesting without mocking someone else or putting someone down, you probably aren’t as funny/clever/interesting as you think you are.

69 Will Weiss   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:08 pm

[62] The reason is because it took place during his career arc. In the same way you can't mention Ray Lewis without the murder trial, or even, to a certain extent Andy Pettitte without HGH.

[39] To Matt's point ... You're an intelligent commentator here and we've had great exchanges, but this is exactly the kind of attitude that perpetuates the behavior Emma has written about. There always has been, and always will be, a cultural and sociological element to sports. Is it entertainment? Absolutely. But for a lot of people, it's not a break from reality, it is reality. .... On a different note, I'm more surprised that the Braves were able to fill the stands. They were drawing at TB Rays level through September, in the the heat of a playoff race. Good fans those Atlanta folks.

[0] Emma, I've forwarded this piece to a former professor who has studied this topic for more than a decade, and worked with the group at the University of Illini to try to remove the imagery of Chief Illiniwek due to its messaging. Great stuff.

70 51cq24   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:39 pm

that jew yawk hebe looks so much like my dentist

71 acemcflint   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:44 pm

Ok, lemme give this a shot...

The term "racist" is a difficult one to deal with, as it is both limiting and imprecise. We can argue all day whether something is "racist" or not without ever coming to a common ground. So let's use the term "problematic" for now, and get into the specifics of why these depictions are problematic:

1) ESSENTIALIZING- the first problem with these depictions is that they essentialize American Indians as a group. That is, they imply that there is an "essence" of American Indian-ism that is shared by all Indians and can be depicted with as little information as a caricature, logo or swing of the hands. This simplification is a denial of individuality to American Indians. These things refuse to recognize American Indians as a diverse group of people, individuals as different from each other within the group as from others without it. By extension, if Indians are refused individuality, they are cast as less than human. Essentialization is dehumanizing.

2) OTHERING- these depictions serve to separate American Indians from the rest of, let's say, "America" by establishing false dichotomies between "the other" and "the same." For instance, American Indians don't have "red" skin anymore than European Americans have "white" skin. As humans, we all basically have slight variations of brownish/pinkish/olivish skin color, and, again, there is often as much difference within a group as between groups. But by labeling one group "white" and the other "red," a difference between groups is artificially introduced. This difference is constructed arbitrarily- why does skin color matter, anyway? We could just as easily delineate people by, say, eyelash length and come up an "other and a "same" group.

This isn't problematic in itself, but the fact is the labels in question were (and are) imposed by a power structure that exploited (and exploits) the "othered" group. Othering is a process of establishing a power structure and taking a dominant position over the othered group (Look at the history of the "Hutu" and "Tutsi" labels for an example). In this way, even "positive" essentializations of an othered group (are American Indians Brave-r than European Americans?) are impositions of power upon that group.

And really, that's what this whole thing boils down to. These depictions are problematic because of the exploitative structures of power they were created by and represent. However, because they also serve to reinforce the ideology of the power structures that cause them, they can't be considered benign.

(BTW, this is white the "Fighting Irish" label, or the stereotyped Italian on the pizza box others were posting about should be considered differently than depictions of American Indians. By and large, "ethnic whites" have been assimilated into the power structure of our society. Without the context of social exploitation, these signs are benign.)

72 underdog   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:47 pm

Thanks for stating what I've tried to articulate over the years, succinctly, Emma. People like to throw the "PC Police" thing back in my face when I argue the same thing (and granted, the "PC" mindset can definitely get carried away) but there's really no reason to keep perpetuating these traditions just because they're, well, traditions. I've always railed in particular about the Redskins nickname (mistakenly, to a friend of mine who is a fan of that team); again I get the "it's tradition, it's history, they have honored Natives" etc arguments. I know my friend isn't racist, I know most of these Braves fans don't mean any harm, but that doesn't mean it isn't still wrong.

Thanks again,
(Dodgers in 2012!)

73 TTH   ~  Oct 12, 2010 3:53 pm

After we fix this great injustice, we'll move on to organizing boycotts of The Simpsons and Family Guy for their unflattering portrayals of fat white guys!

74 Bama Yankee   ~  Oct 12, 2010 4:00 pm

[66] No problem, Alex. You are a good man and I had a feeling that was what you meant.

[69] But didn't Bobby's wife recant the story and drop the charges? I read where she said she was upset at him and made up the story to get back at him. I'm not saying that it didn't happen or that it did happen, but no one (other than Bobby and Pam) knows for sure. One thing we do know is that he has never been found guilty of abusing his wife and that she is still with him to this day (with no other incidents being reported since).
What if she did actually make the story up? Should it follow Bobby the rest of his career? If the abuse did take place and she just changed her story to "protect" her husband (this certainly does happen is sad when it does) the police should have investigated the matter further (this was back in the aftermath of the OJ Simpson fiasco and domestic violence was starting to be taken more serioulsy by law enforcement).
Shouldn't we give him the benefit of the doubt since he was never found guilty?

75 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 12, 2010 4:16 pm

74) The police filed a report. The report said he punched her in the face and pulled her hair. That he was drunk. It''s common for abused women to drop the charges.

76 boslaw   ~  Oct 12, 2010 4:17 pm

Famous black people call each other Nigger all the time. The word has now entered pop culture. My lilly white nephews in high school call each other Nigger all the time and think there's nothing wrong with it. They have no context, no sense of the history. Rappers will say that it's ok if they call each other Nigger, but a white kid better never call them Nigger. Yet they use that term in their songs, and the white kids who by their CD's are singing along, so what do they expect? If Big Papi and 50 Cent started a new baseball team called the Newark Niggers, my nephews would probably think that was cool. Would it be ok because it was started by black people? What about others who were/are still offended by the term. Does the fact that the history of use of that word is more recent than Indians and Redskins change anything? Is use of a slur ok after a certain period has expired and the target group is no longer a target? If you're 2 generations or more removed from being a target of racism, can you still be offended by the racist lingo? Our parents and grandparents certainly had personal experience with the racism associated with the word Nigger. I doubt our great-grandparents had any personal experience with use of the slur Indians or Reds, other than watching the Lone Ranger.

[71] Have black people been assimilated into the power structure of our society? See Obama, Barack. I think Jay-Z and Oprah are on the list of wealthiest people in America. Does that mean that it's ok to call them Niggers?

I don't mean to offend anyone by this post - I'm just trying to provoke further discussion. This is not an easy topic and I think for every point someone makes, there's an exception to the rule.

77 Alex Belth   ~  Oct 12, 2010 4:33 pm

Here's some, err, unintentional comedy on the subject...


This is Dustin Hoffman's well-meaning but misguided performance as Lenny Bruce from the accomplished-looking movie, "Lenny." Hoffman managed to take all the late night sexuality out of Bruce and this scene has no bite, just unfunny and didactic. But the filmmaking is really strong.

78 acemcflint   ~  Oct 12, 2010 4:40 pm

boslaw, what percentage of this country's population is African- or Afro-Indian- American? What percentage of congress is "black?" How many CEOs? What percentage of people who sit on boards of directors? Judges? Heads of police departments? Deans of colleges? What percentage of the American stock market is held by "black" people? How about baseball team owners? Land owned? Income? Investments? Wealth?

Cherry picking a few African Americans who are rich distracts from the institutionalized racism of our society.

No one of "color" is two generations away from racism. It's all around us, today.

79 joaquin13   ~  Oct 12, 2010 4:58 pm

[76] First, I wanted to say that I appreciate you engaging with the debate in an honest and courageous way. It takes a lot to put yourself out there in a vulnerable way when there are such contentious ideas being thrown around.

In response to what you have said, I would prefer if the word Nigger was never used again. I am reminded of Richard Pryor when he came back from a trip to Africa and told his audiences that he went there and saw people of all different types, sizes, and colors but didn’t see one Nigger. He never used the word in public again (to the best of my knowledge), though he acknowledged it was hard not to, due to habit and cultural norms. He began to see it as an ugly word and he felt his attempts to buffer himself from the pain it caused by “owning it” were misguided. I tend to agree with Mr. Pryor here. With respect to a statute of limitations on racial slurs, I don’t think they are really ever okay. Why reprise something ugly from the past? In this case, however, that doesn’t really apply since there are still a ton of First Nation men and women around who are offended by these images. The fact that this is even a question shows how little we understand the ongoing struggle against this sort of prejudice.

Finally, and this is an especially important point, just because the President is a black man does not mean we live in a society that is color blind, nor equal with respect to race and power. It is not an individual case by case basis that we should decide what is okay and what is not. We should be more concerned with the symbolism and history the words and images we are using are steeped in. It doesn’t matter that Mos Def is talented, intelligent, rich, famous, he still gets called Nigger and is discriminated against just the same (http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/mosdef/mrnigga.html). Racism is inherently about a structural difference in power.
Speaking of that difference in power, how many black senators do we have?

How many black governors? How many black CEOs of fortune 500 companies? The power structure in our society is certainly nowhere near equal. And, no, it wouldn’t be okay to hurl derogatory slurs at them even if they were equal in societal power. The urge to defend a person’s “right” to use offensive and demeaning and othering language is in and of itself an urge to defend the power structures as they now exist.

80 joaquin13   ~  Oct 12, 2010 5:05 pm

[71] By the way, I really enjoyed what you wrote.

81 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Oct 12, 2010 6:25 pm

It amazes me that anyone would spend time defending the use of absurd, offensive team names. I mean "Redskins"...how can that be justified? I guess it's to be expected in our country where political candidates think dressing up like a member of the SS during weekend military porn-camp is perfectly normal...people just have zero sense of history.

82 rabbits warren   ~  Oct 12, 2010 8:06 pm

As a southern gentleman shouldn't"t i find the term Yankees offensive, never mind that southern people (not my family)owned slaves longer then the northern people? I find slavery appalling ,but everything has positive and negative . Take the new york metropolitans they're proud of being from the city,the "patriots" rebelled against England who gave them their start ,talk about ungrateful,eagles are majestic but kill cute bunny rabbits.etc So in conclusion, what do you do to help your fellow man ,instead of speaking about someone elses business ,do you say hello to someone that makes eye contact,or laugh to others that they're clothes don't match ie action vs reaction.

83 joaquin13   ~  Oct 12, 2010 8:30 pm

[82] I am sorry, but I don't think I understand the comment. I am not familiar with Yankee being used as a pejorative term for a southern gentleman. I think the important point I am missing is the historical context in which an "othered" group is demeaned through use of the term Yankee. And in the end it isn't a matter of whether one should or should not find a term offensive, but if in fact one is offended by it. So, if you are offended by the term Yankee because it has been historically used to demean you, I think you have every right to be upset by the name, and I would love to hear more about that context so that I can be better informed.

84 jeremydneezy   ~  Oct 12, 2010 11:23 pm

'Yankee' is a pejorative term I hear everyday in my life (and only occasionally uttered by me) but it is never used as a term for anything Southern. It basically refers to "haughty assholes from the North" if I can be so brave as to make a sweeping generalization concerning its usage in Dixie. I always find it rather funny when a transplanted Brit down here jokingly calls someone a 'Yank' (as a term for any American) and they find themselves on the other end of a glare. Usually the mistake is not repeated.

I've enjoyed reading this discussion as much as almost anything in my time as a Banter reader (which is a long time). And I promise to cut down on my usage of 'Yankee' as a pejorative. I use it far more as a utterance of respect since it connotes the greatest sports franchise the world has ever known. Bring on the Rangers!!!!!!!!

85 glennstout   ~  Oct 13, 2010 6:22 am

As an aside, the nickname Braves, as first adopted by the franchise when it was in Boston, was in reference to the fact that the team was owned by James Gaffney, a memeber of New York's Tammany Hall political machine. Tammany Hall took its name from a native American, Chief Tammany. Hence members of the Tammany Hall political machine were dubbed "braves." So originally, the name referred to political insiders, and not specifically Native Americans, but as the Tammany Hall connection was lost to history, the native derivation of the name moved into the forefront.

86 Boatzilla   ~  Oct 13, 2010 9:59 am

I'm glad somebody mentioned the "Crusaders." which is a popular H.S. sports team name, especially in New Jersey. To me (and I have some Naive American blood), nothing, could be more offensive. Crusaders were essentially religious terrorists, no different than the guys who flew those planes into the Twin Towers. Yet Crusader is a "good word" in our lexicon and the Crusaders were celebrated in Western history, at least when I was a kid, and especially in Catholic schools. On the other hand, I guess it's not unlike calling a team the Vandals or the Vikings, etc.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver