Tomahawk chop controversy

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By Peter Gibbs

It’s October which means the Tomahawk Chop is under the spotlight once again.

The Tomahawk Chop is a gesture where fans swing their arm back and forth while harmonizing in a chant. The problem is that while it’s fun for the crowd to do at games, it is considered offensive to Native American tribes.

The Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs and Florida State Seminoles are the main teams to have fans use the gesture during home games. Each team is under careful watch especially in October due to the Braves being in the playoffs and the Chiefs and Seminoles playing once a week.

I’ve always thought the Tomahawk Chop is cool and is an intimidating tactic that fanbases use to unsettle opposing players. My thought process was that the gesture is a way of highlighting Native American culture and was a simple way of showing respect to Native tribes.

However, groups such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) believe the gesture and chant are offensive and stereotype Native American tribes. 

In a response to Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, saying the chop being offensive is a local issue, the NCAI said, “The name ‘Braves,’ the tomahawk adorning the team’s uniform, and the ‘tomahawk chop’ that the team exhorts its fans to perform at home games are meant to depict and caricature not just one tribal community but all Native people. That is how the nation interprets them.”

The Braves have said that the organization works with the local tribes to improve awareness of Native American history. “It’s the least of our problems,”  the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Richard Sneed said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got bigger issues to deal with.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have changed their policies by banning the use of stereotypical Native American war paint or headgear. The organization has also told broadcasters to avoid showing any fans who do use the stereotypical gear.

Other organizations like the Illinois Fighting Illini have outright banned their version of the Tomahawk Chop.

Braves fans doing the Tomahawk chop in the 2021 National League Championship Series

I feel that Florida State has the right solution.

FSU has an established relationship with the Seminole tribe where the school can use the name and likeness for educational purposes. “Florida State does not have a mascot. Instead, we have the honor of calling ourselves “Seminoles” in admiration of the only Native American tribe never conquered by the U.S. Government,” FSU stated in a release.

Florida State has a great tradition for each of its football games. A select student is given the opportunity to show the history of the Seminole tribe by riding the horse “Renegade” onto the field while wearing Seminole-made clothing. 

The way FSU goes about its relationship is the way that things should be in the future. If these teams that use the Tomahawk Chop are trying to use the gesture as a way of showing Native American culture, then I think nobody can get upset over using the chant and chop.

With the public already forcing the Cleveland Guardians and Washington Commanders to abandon their old names, I for one hope that teams keep the Tomahawk Chop and use it as a way of bringing awareness to Native American culture.

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