The Atlanta Braves is one of the oldest operating professional sports franchises in America. They have an astonishing history that includes great teams and great ballplayers, and the National Braves are one of America’s most successful baseball stories.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The National Braves were embroiled in a mascot controversy that bought first outrage, then debate, to the whole country.
All baseball teams have mascots – they are the person or the ‘thing’ that supposedly bring good luck to the team. The mascot travels everywhere with the team, is photographed with the team and always sits close to the sidelines to watch.
The Atlanta Braves have had various mascots but from 1955 their mascot was Chief Noc -a -Homa. The name was used for the ‘screaming Indian’ sleeve patch that was worn on the Brave’s jersey.
It was the portrayal of Chief Noc-a-Homa that bought mascot controversy to the team, in fact, to America.
Levi Walker was the man who would dress up as the Chief Noc-a-Homa and during games he would hang out in a teepee in the bleacher seats. Each time the Atlanta Brave’s hit a home run, the mascot would leave the teepee and do a dance. He was dressed as a Chief, an Indian, including the full face paint.
Not much thought had been put into this by the Braves.The mascot was basically offensive to American Indians; also to anyone with any moral or ethical standards.
The National Council of American Indians took up the cause. As far back as 1968 they maintained a strong position against stereotyping Native people in a harmful manner. Stereotyping is an odd thing and often people are not aware they are even doing it. By making Chief Noc-a-Homa a dancing cheering Indian, cheering on a team that had few if any Native American Indians in it, was harmful and negative for self esteem and self image.
The mascot controversy brought awareness to a cause that many were oblivious too. Rather than honouring the native American Indian, the caricature of the mascot created bias and stereotype. The caricatures, or mascots, had a blatant disregard for the American Indian and rather than respect and treat as equals, the mascots dehumanised them.
In 2013 things reached a crescendo when the Braves went even further and fans performed a cheer that was known as The Tomahawk Chop. It was culturally insenstive, caused even more mascot controversy and huge debate with the National Council of American Indians who advocate for and protect civil rights, social justice and racial equality for all.
Progress has definitely been made since this mascot controversy and tons of awareness has been brought to the issue. The era of damaging and harmful Indian mascots has been ended. All baseball teams still have mascots but a lot of thought goes into them.
Today the Atlanta Braves have ‘Homer The Brave’ as their mascot. A much wiser choice.
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