The huge baseball news of the week came early on Monday, as the Atlanta Braves announced they will no longer be playing in Atlanta. The club will be moving from downtown Atlanta to nearby Cobb County in 2017, after the club’s lease on Turner Field ends.
There are plenty of angles with this story: The city of Atlanta became one of few public bodies to stand up and say no to a greedy sports owner looking for unnecessary public funding. The Braves are joining a trend of teams moving (or at least threatening to move) out of cities and in to the suburbs. What will happen with Turner Field? The list goes on.
But buried in one of the reports in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution was another interesting nugget, one that I think would catch most Atlantans (and baseball fans) off guard. It came not from the sports section but from the paper’s political insider, Jim Galloway. Buried after discussions of the roles of certain Georgia political figures in the move and the potential of horse racing replacing baseball at Turner Field, Galloway writes:
“Could it be a chance also to rebrand the Braves’ image? The scuttlebutt among some politicos is that the team may also look to change their logo amid the move.”
As long as the football team in Washington clings to its nickname, “Braves” will hardly be the target of vast national outrage. But a number of amateur teams have changed either the Braves name (as Chowan University in North Carolina did) or have changed their mascots so as to remove the affiliation with Native American culture (as did Alcorn State University in Mississippi and Bradley University in Illinois).
Even if the name isn’t an all-out slur, its connections to Native American imagery remain a reminder of white supremacy. Via the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI):
“American sports businesses such as the NFLs Washington Redsk*ns and Kansas City Chiefs, MLBs Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves, and the NHLs Chicago Black Hawks, continue to profit from harmful stereotypes originated during a time when white superiority and segregation were common place”
“Among the remaining professional teams with harmful mascots, actions by the MLBs Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians to subtly alter logos and team branding in an attempt to mitigate harm while keeping established brand identity, indicates that management in these businesses understand the negative social impact of their brands.
In 1986, the Atlanta Braves retired Chief Noc-A-Homa, a mascot who actually had a teepee in the bleachers of Fulton County Stadium and performed a war dance when a home team player hit a home run. However, these actions also indicate an unwillingness to completely disavow their business from their brands for financial reasons.”
Ignoring the financial reasons — something I quite frankly don’t care about, and considering the public funding Cobb County may throw at the Braves, I don’t think it’s something you should care about either — there is no good argument for keeping the name. Even beyond the racial insensitivity off the name and the trappings surrounding it — the Tomahawk Chop in particular — the name has such a limited connection to the city of Atlanta or the state of Georgia. This move presents a great opportunity to not only ditch an unfortunate name, but also to tie the team more aptly to the state identity.
The Braves name comes not from Atlanta, but from 1910s Boston. The club’s owner, James Gaffney, belonged to the New York City political machine Tammany Hall. The Tammany Society was named after Tamanend, a leader of the Lenape tribe of Native Americans, and this statue was on the façade of the Tammany Hall headquarters:
Tamanend became the inspiration for the Boston Braves logo, and it has followed the club from Boston to Milwaukee and finally to Atlanta. Chief Noc-a-homa may be scrubbed from the franchise (barring the ill-advised attempt to place his image on a batting practice cap this past winter) but that spirit — or the spirit of a Native American figure exploited by the richest men and most powerful politicians in the country’s biggest city at the turn of the 20th century — can’t be removed without eliminating the name as a whole.
If the so called “scuttlebutt” is real, this is a great opportunity for Atlanta ownership. I don’t pretend to know Atlanta or the Georgia are well enough to suggest the ideal name — the only Georgian image I’m familiar with is the peach, and I can hardly imagine the Atlanta Peaches would catch on. But the city, state and club have the ideal opportunity to finally shake the Braves name and all the problems it brings with it, and it would be a shame if they didn’t take this opportunity for all it is worth.