2021 World Series: An Easy Cheat Sheet to the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop and What Makes the Gesture So Divisive

Article Highlights:

  • Atlanta Braves fans have performed the tomahawk gesture for decades
  • The chop has received serious pushback in recent years
  • Baseball fans should expect to see and hear about the chop during the 2021 World Series 

In theory, one would think most baseball fans are rooting for the Atlanta Braves in the 2021 World Series, if only because they’re not the Houston Astros

We’ll almost certainly hear about everything from All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman’s clutch hitting to the legends of Braves baseball, including the likes of Hank Aaron and Greg Maddux, during this year’s Fall Classic. However, those who scroll social media during the game are also likely to encounter many a tweet or story ripping the three-time World Series champions about the Tomahawk Chop. 

Why would Braves fans’ signature gesture be such a focal point in the 2021 World Series? Here’s a cheat sheet on everything you need to know about the chop and why it’s become so controversial in recent years. 

What is the Tomahawk Chop, and why do the Braves perform it?

Any baseball fan who’s watched a Braves home game in the last 30 years can visualize it: thousands of fans holding a foam tomahawk and chopping as a war chant takes over the stadium. 

Originally, the chop and its famous song originated at Florida State University; FSU’s sports teams, of course, are the Seminoles. Braves organist Carolyn King had reportedly played the music for years before it caught on in 1991 when the Braves reached the World Series.

Contrary to popular belief, outfielder and FSU alum Deion Sanders’ arrival in 1991 had no legitimate impact on the chop’s growth. It is believed the team’s overall success in the 1990s — the Braves reached the playoffs every year from 1991-93 and 1995-2005 — had far more of a result than Sanders, the popular two-sport athlete and Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback, playing left field.

Interestingly, the Kansas City Chiefs adopted the chop around the same period. The Chiefs worked the gesture and the song into games starting in November 1990. 

The Chop has received serious pushback in recent years

The then-Boston Rustlers became the Braves ahead of the 1912 season. For years, professional sports teams have used Native American imagery for their names, logos, and mascots.

Native Americans protested the Braves and the chop during the 1991 World Series. Atlanta did not retire the gesture or the tomahawks during that year’s Fall Classic or when the 1992 season began.

A quick Google or Twitter search will pull up differing beliefs on both sides. Some believe the gesture pays tribute to the Native Americans and isn’t offensive. Others have called it offensive, discriminatory, and disrespectful.

It wasn’t until October 2019 when the Braves finally made a significant change to the chop. According to ​​The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, said he found the chop depicted Native Americans “in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual.”

The Braves did not hand out tomahawks or do anything chop-related when that year’s National League Division Series, won by Helsley’s Cardinals, returned to Atlanta. Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed told the AJC he wanted to work with the Braves on retiring the chop.

“That’s just so stereotypical, like old-school Hollywood. Come on, guys. It’s 2020. Let’s move on. Find something else.”

Richard Sneed

After not hosting fans during the 2020 season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Braves returned to using the chop when the 2021 season began.

Elsewhere in the professional sports world, Washington’s professional NFL team retired its Native American imagery in 2020 and became the Washington Football Team. The Cleveland Indians are set to become the Guardians beginning next season.

Although the Kansas City Chiefs have not changed their name, the team banned fans from wearing ceremonial headdresses and Native American-style face paint ahead of the 2020 season.

Fans should expect the Tomahawk Chop to be a prominent part — and discussion point — of the 2021 World Series

Atlanta Braves fans will likely be performing the Tomahawk Chop during the 2021 World Series.
Atlanta Braves fans will likely be performing the Tomahawk Chop during the 2021 World Series | Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Regardless of how the 2021 World Series goes, the Braves are guaranteed to have at least two games at home. Barring any unexpected changes, fans will likely perform the chop and chant along at key points in those games.

Any such gestures will come after social media shared its displeasure with the chop during the Braves’ NLCS victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Former ESPN reporter Lisa Guerrero called the gesture “ugly” on Oct. 22. Forbes’ Maury Brown said he muted TBS or changed the channel every time he saw Braves fans perform the chop. 

“Shoot the s— right into the sun,” he tweeted.

CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee tweeted he believes those writing about the chop need to “do research on the organization’s relationship with Native Americans.”

As of publication, the Braves had not announced if there would be any game-day changes like the ones that took place during the 2019 NLDS. You should expect to see plenty of social media commentary about the chop regardless of the team’s decision. 

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