By Ken Reed

Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves have had an issue hanging over their heads for a long time: a nickname that’s offensive to many and which has a racist beginning.

With the passing of Hank Aaron, the greatest player in franchise history (and the greatest player in baseball history, according to some), Atlanta has a rare “kill two birds with one stone” opportunity: Get rid of a nickname that carries a lot of baggage and rename the team the Hammers to honor Aaron. Aaron was known as Hammerin’ Hank across the baseball landscape during his playing days.

Some argue that the nickname “Braves” is actually a tribute to Native Americans. Unlike the clearly racist nickname “Redskins,” long used by Washington’s NFL franchise, the term “Braves” probably isn’t racist on the surface. But put in historical context, the nickname gets uglier.

Erik Brady explained why in a recent commentary:

“When the Boston Braves [the franchise would move from Boston to Milwaukee and then Atlanta] adopted their name in 1912, so-called ‘civilization regulations’ forbade Native Americans to speak their languages, practice their religions or leave their reservations. This meant real American Indians could not openly perform ceremonial dances at a time when painted-up pretend ones could prance on sidelines, mocking the religious rituals of what a dominant white culture viewed as a vanishing red one.”

Moreover, through the years, Braves’ uniforms have sported an ignoble savage in a headdress, with mouth agape in a war cry. The team’s tomahawk emblem helped spur thousands of Braves fans to do the offensive “Tomahawk Chop,” during games in a seemingly non-stop manner. The Braves finally took a few steps to downplay symbols of its nickname during the 2019 playoffs after St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said he found Atlanta’s “Tomahawk Chop” offensive.

This proposed name change is a softball toss to Atlanta’s ownership and executive team. It’s long past time for all American Indian nicknames, mascots and caricatures to disappear from American sports. History and tradition are not strong reasons to keep things in our society that are clearly wrong. As a country, we’ve gotten rid of many things, including slavery and Jim Crow laws, that simply had no place in American society. Nobody is asking the Atlanta franchise to burn its entire history and pretend it didn’t exist. It is what it is. But we can ask team owners and executives, from this point in time, to make a positive move forward — and honor a great player and human being in the process.

Hank Aaron endured bitter racism with dignity and courage while breaking the most famous record in American sports, Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Major League Baseball as a whole, and Atlanta Braves owners and executives in particular, have the opportunity to do the right thing, right now. Get rid of a tainted nickname and replace it with a nickname honoring a great ballplayer and a man who spent much of his life trying to push the country to move past its racist tendencies and live up to its founding ideals of equality and justice for all.

The question is, do they have the courage and character to do it?

Here’s something to ponder: It would only take a fraction of the courage and character Hank Aaron displayed throughout his life.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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