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.
“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
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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