Manfred: Local Native American community 'fully supportive' of Braves

Atlanta Braves fans cheer during the sixth inning in Game 4 of the 2020 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he has no issues with the Atlanta Braves' continued use of Native American imagery on their uniforms and their fans' tomahawk chant, despite similar concerns being raised about other teams across the North American sports landscape.

Speaking with media ahead of Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, Manfred said "The Native American community in that region is fully supportive of the Braves’ program, including the chop.

"I think it’s important to understand that we have 30 markets in the country," he added, according to USA Today. “Not all are the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community."

Union leader Tony Clark was more critical of the Braves when asked about their use of the symbols Tuesday, saying any concerns should be properly addressed.

“I know there are certain things that, as a Black man, resonate with me,” Clark said. “And I would assume there are instances that resonate with others as well. To the extent that’s one of them, it’s worthy of some dialogue.”

Questions about Atlanta and other teams using Native American and Indigenous names and symbols as mascots for sports teams are not new. In just the past two years, the NFL's Washington Football Team, CFL's Edmonton Elks and MLB's Cleveland Guardians have rebranded themselves after previously using Native American and Indigenous nicknames and logos.

Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami -- the national representative organization for Inuit in Canada -- spoke up against the Edmonton football team's former name in 2015. In an interview with Sportsnet's Donnovan Bennett, he explained why he raised his voice.

"It’s the same thing for any society, any culture. If some people within a society are being targeted by the use of a particular term as an ethnic slur and have been deeply hurt and are still hurting from weaponizing this particular word, then why can’t we support those people?" Obed said. "The best way to move forward is to recognize that people have been hurt by this and (for all of us to) galvanize around trying to do better so that racism is lessened and also that people's human dignity is upheld and respected."

The Braves have not avoided their own scrutiny either. In 2019, Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley -- a member of the Cherokee nation -- said it was "disappointing" to see Atlanta fans doing a tomahawk chant while he pitched against them in that year's NLDS.

"I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general," Helsley said at the time. "Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot 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 how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots."

The Braves responded to Helsley's concerns at the time with their own statement.

"Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country," that statement said. "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."

Still, two years later the same questions are being asked about the same team.

"I don’t know how every Native American group around the country feels," Manfred said Tuesday. “I am 100 per cent certain that the Braves understand what the Native American community in their region believes and that they’ve acted in accordance with that understanding."

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