Tribal Citizen & St. Louis Cardinal Pitcher Calls Tomahawk Chop “Disappointing, Disrespectful”

Ryan Hesley is one of six American Indians who play in Major League Baseball.

Published October 6, 2019

ATLANTA — Ryan Helsley, a tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, observed firsthand the tomahawk chop during the first playoff game on Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. Helsley is a relief pitcher for the Cardinals.

The tomahawk chop, which originated with the Florida Seminoles football team, made its way to Atlanta almost three decades ago as a means for the home team fans to cheer on their team, using a foam rubber tomahawk and a so-called Indian chant.

Helsley pitched in the Thursday night opener of the post-season playoff game.

Friday he took his concerns to the press.

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said before the Friday night game.

“Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. 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 how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots.”

“That’s the disappointing part,” he continued in a conversation with The Post-Dispatch. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”

On Saturday, the Atlanta Braves organization said they “appreciate and take seriously” Helsley’s concerns. The team says it has “worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years.”

“Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country,” the Braves stated in a statement. “We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the in-game experience, and look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community once the season comes to an end.”

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