Rob Manfred may be trying to mend some fences with Atlanta after yanking the MLB All-Star Game out of the Georgia city earlier this year to protest the state’s new voting laws.
Speaking Tuesday before Game 1 of the World Series in Houston, Manfred cited the team’s relationship with the American Indian community while defending Atlanta’s nickname and its “tomahawk chop” fan celebration.
“It’s important to understand that we have 30 markets around the country. They aren’t all the same,” Manfred said. “The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the native American community.”
Manfred added that the American Indian community in the region is “wholly supportive” of the Braves and the tomahawk chop.
“For me, that’s kind of the end of the story,” Manfred said. “In that market, taking into account the native American community, it works.”
Manfred’s respect for localized decision-making comes just days before the Fall Classic shifts from Houston to Atlanta (Game 3 is Friday) — and several months after the commissioner took a distinctly different tack on the Georgia Legislature and governor’s approval of new voting laws in that state.
“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game,” Manfred said in April. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
Republican lawmakers behind the Georgia voting rules argued the law was an attempt to restore faith in elections, not restrict access, and pointed out that MLB’s move would hurt Atlanta’s minority-owned businesses more than anyone. Still, the All-Star Game ended up in Denver.
Manfred’s tentative endorsement of the Braves nickname and the tomahawk chop fan celebration also comes as teams, from the pros to high schools, under pressure from activists are abandoning American Indian-themed nicknames and imagery as racially insensitive.
Opinions of Atlanta’s nickname and the tomahawk chop are varied within the American Indian community. The National Council of American Indians has called for the team to drop the nickname and ban the celebration.
In 2019, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said the celebration was “disrespectful.”
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told the St. Louis Dispatch. “… It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.”
In 2020, Braves chairman Terry McGuirk and team president Derek Schiller sent an email to season ticket holders that said the organization had met with Native American groups in the area and that changing the team’s nickname was “not under consideration or deemed necessary.” They did add, though, that the tomahawk chop would continue to be evaluated.