Braves stop handing out tomahawks amidst backlash over 'Tomahawk Chop'

ATLANTA — After receiving criticism from St. Louis Cardinals reliever and Cherokee Nation member Ryan Helsley over their promotion of the so-called “tomahawk chop” chant, the Atlanta Braves did not distribute foam tomahawks on seats before Game 5 of the National League Division Series as they typically do for playoff games. 

The Braves issued a statement Wednesday addressing the changes:

“Out of respect for the concerns expressed by Mr. Helsley, we will take several efforts to reduce the Tomahawk Chop during our in-ballpark presentation today. Among other things, these steps include not distributing foam tomahawks to each seat and not playing the accompanying music or using Chop-related graphics when Mr. Helsley is in the game. As stated earlier, we will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience. We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”

Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier in the series that he felt the chant was disrespectful of his Cherokee heritage. 

The Braves and their fans adopted the chant in the 1990s, importing it from Florida State when former Seminoles football player Deion Sanders played for Atlanta. It has continued to be part of the Braves’ in-game presentation ever since. 

A Braves fan holds a foam tomahawk during Game 1 of the NLDS.
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

“I think it's a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told the Post-Dispatch. “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.”

Though the Braves have dialed back their direct ties to Native American imagery, the Tomahawk logo is still prominent on uniforms. They also sell merchandise with the phrase “Chop On” emblazoned and encourage the chant with music at key points in the game.