St. Louis Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, believes the Atlanta Braves' "tomahawk chop" chant is "disrespectful" and "devalues" perceptions of Native Americans, the rookie told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday.
Helsley on Thursday entered the opening game of the Cardinals' National League Division Series with the fans at Atlanta's SunTrust Park swinging foam tomahawks while singing a long-used song, which mimics a Native American chant.
The "chop" is used often during Braves home games and wasn't directed at Helsley in particular, but he said he still found the song's use "disappointing."
"I think it's a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general," Helsley told the newspaper Friday ahead of Game 2, which Atlanta won to even the series 1-1. "Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren't intellectual. They are a lot of 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 it devalues us and how we're perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The [NFL's Washington] Redskins and stuff like that.
"That's the disappointing part. That stuff like this still goes on. It's just disrespectful, I think."
The Braves play the chant's drumroll over the stadium's speakers and placed a tomahawk in every seat before Friday's game. The team has also used "#ChopOn" on its social media accounts all season long.
"It's everywhere," Helsley told the Post-Dispatch. "I feel like there are a lot of other things they could use as mascots. Using our heritage as a mascot -- it isn't the best thing. There have been schools who in the past 20, 30 years have changed their mascots. I don't see why professional teams are so far behind on that."
The Cleveland Indians removed their "Chief Wahoo" caricature logo before this season. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told the Washington Post in February that the league has "taken steps to take out the tomahawk chop."
The team released a statement Saturday that said the Braves "appreciate and take seriously the concerns of Mr. Helsley and have 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. 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."