The Braves’ tomahawk gesture concerns Atlanta’s Native American community, says Commissioner Rob Manfred
HOUSTON – Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is relying on the Native American community of Atlanta and surrounding areas on whether it is appropriate for the Braves to encourage the tomahawk chop gesture when the World Series is around for Games 3 to 5 this weekend.
“It’s important to understand that we have 30 markets across the country,” Manfred said ahead of Game 1 between the Braves and the Astros on Tuesday night. “They are not all the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community.”
Manfred said the Native American community in the Atlanta area “fully supports the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that’s the end of the story.”
However, opinions about the gesture have varied over the years within Native American communities, including some with ties to the region. The National Council of American Indians has called for the franchise to drop the chop as well as the team’s nickname.
The issues have taken on greater significance this year as the Cleveland organization changed its long-standing nickname from Indians to Guardians. Manfred’s response to a possible nickname change for Atlanta was the same as for the chop: it’s a local issue.
“Every market is different,” he repeated. “Long before this became an issue, Atlanta cultivated a relationship with the Native American community which was very helpful in making decisions like the two that came up.”
MLB Players Union Leader Tony Clark has said he wants to have a conversation about anything that impacts social issues in baseball. This is one of them.
“An issue that produces or excites the kind of commentary you see in Atlanta deserves some dialogue,” Clark said. “I know there are certain things that resonate with me as a black man, and we’ll assume that there are cases that resonate with others as well. And to the extent that this is one of them, then this deserves a dialogue. “
Manfred was asked if his opinion might change if Native American communities outside of the Atlanta market contest the gesture.
“We don’t market our game nationally,” Manfred said. “Ours is an everyday game. You have to sell tickets every day to fans in that market. And there are all kinds of differences between clubs, between regions in how the game is marketed.”
In 2019, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, complained about the chop as his team faced the Braves in the playoffs.
Atlanta took steps to reduce its encouragement, but has since reinstated it. It was rumored in the Braves’ home games in the playoffs.
Atlanta will host the Intermediate World Series games just months after Manfred moved the All-Star Game from there to Denver due to voting rights issues in Georgia. He was concerned that some players might protest while playing in the game, sources said at the time. The Commissioner was asked on Tuesday whether it is increasingly difficult for sport to stay away from political issues.
“More difficult than before,” he said. “We have always tried to be apolitical. There has been one notable exception this year. Our will is to try to avoid another exception to this general rule.
“We have a diverse fan base with different perspectives. We would like to stay focused on the pitch.”
Another pre-game topic was the upcoming end of the current collective agreement between the league and the players’ union. It is expected to expire on December 1. If a new deal is not made, it is possible that the owners will block the players.
“This is our No.1 priority,” Manfred said. “The victory in collective bargaining is that you make a deal. “
Sources say most of the important financial issues have not been resolved, but both sides are showing optimism with five weeks remaining.
“We have, at this point, taken advantage of the days that we have had at the All-Star Game, and we plan to take advantage of the days that we have before and until the expiration,” Clark said.
Manfred added: “The most important point is that I know our clubs are 100% committed to the idea that they want a deal by December 1st.”
Potential rule changes on the ground will also be a topic of discussion during the CBA negotiations. The length of a match – up by around three minutes this year to 3:10 – is above all in the mind of the commissioner. A pitch clock, which is tested at other baseball levels, becomes a real possibility.
“There will come a time when the pressure to make changes will be enough,” said Manfred. “I prefer to do it by finding an agreement with the players.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.