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Just days after St. Louis pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke out against the chant, Atlanta said it would curb its use during Wednesday’s playoff game.
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves took a significant, if limited, step away from their “tomahawk chop” chant on Wednesday ahead of Game 5 in the team’s National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, had criticized the use of the chant earlier in the playoff series.
For the decisive Game 5, the Braves said in a statement that they had decided not to distribute red foam tomahawks — long a fixture at Braves games — on the seats at SunTrust Park. The team also said that the thumping backup music to the team’s chant would not be played over the park’s sound system if Helsley was in the game. The Cardinals, however, did not call on him during their 13-1 victory.
The Braves’ tomahawk logo still appeared on the park’s video screen during the presentation of Atlanta’s starting lineup, and a tomahawk was painted onto the grass behind home plate. But as first pitch approached on Wednesday evening, the team did not play the chant’s audio track, which stadium workers have used for years to prompt fans to gesture.
“We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience,” the Braves’ statement said. “We look forward to continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after this postseason concludes.”
The change in tradition came six days after Helsley, a 25-year-old rookie reliever, pitched in Atlanta for the first time. Soon after, Helsley told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he thought the cheer was “a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general.”
He also said that the chant depicted Native Americans “in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that.”
At a news conference on Tuesday, Mike Shildt, the manager of the Cardinals, said he supported Helsley’s position on the chant.
“I don’t think he’s got anything malicious toward it,” Shildt said. “I think he was just honest about it. And I respect that completely.”
The Braves have faced years of criticism about their nickname as well as the team’s regular use of the chant, and their shift on Wednesday was striking in its swiftness.
The change came toward the end of a season in which the Cleveland Indians stopped using their Chief Wahoo logo. Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, had urged the team to abandon the caricature that Cleveland first included on its uniforms in 1948.
A spokesman for Major League Baseball did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Braves’ decision on Wednesday appeared to have a limited effect, for now, on spectators. Within the first few pitches of Game 5, fans began the chant anyway.