On Sports: Teams Still Are Stereotyping Native Americans

by Dylan Sondike ‘24

After the Atlanta Braves celebrated a hard-fought World Series win, they have received backlash about both their name and the tomahawk chop, a tradition their fans do often during every game. The NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks have also faced criticism for their names, and all three teams should be forced to change. Other teams have been pressured to change their name, such as the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians) and the Washington Redskins (for now the Washington Football Team). There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a similar campaign for the other franchises.

The tomahawk chop originated in late 1991 and largely existed under the radar until 2019. In the National League Division Series of that season, the St. Louis Cardinals Ryan Helsey, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was appalled by the chop. “I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” said Helsey. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that most of the Naive Americans in that region support the tomahawk chop and thinks that as long as that continues, there is no reason to get rid of it. While this may be true for some tribes near the Atlanta area, many other Native Americans think this is a very stereotypical action. The Braves are not the only team who have this offensive tradition, the Kansas City Chiefs fans perform the same chop as well as the accompanying cheer during their games. While the chop may appear to be a tactic used by fans to taunt the opposing team, it is rooted deep into America’s racist past and it is incredibly offensive to Native Americans. 

If the Redskins and Indians were justifiably forced to change their name, so should the Chiefs, Blackhawks, and Braves. The Chicago Blackhawks have a very similar logo to what the Washington Redskins had. It stands to reason that there should be consistency from one team to another about what is an offensive or insensitive image of Native American identity. The tomahawk chop of the Braves and Chiefs, as well as the Blackhawks’ logo are prominent examples of how stereotypes of Native Americans are still present today in professional sports. These commissioners and owners of their respective teams or leagues should change their names or traditions to help the cause.