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The Washington NFL team is retiring its name. MLB’s Braves and Indians should be next.

This has been a long time coming, and it’s the right thing to do.

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Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

With what is absolutely lightning speed when things like this are concerned, the Washington NFL team will “retire” its Redskins nickname Monday, according to USA Today:

Just less than two weeks after one of his most prominent corporate sponsors urged him to change the name of his football team, Washington owner Daniel Snyder plans to announce the retirement of the “Redskins” nickname and reveal a new team name Monday morning, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to USA TODAY Sports.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement of a pending change had not been made.

The new name remains unknown, but Warriors, Red Wolves and Redtails have ranked among the post popular choices among fans on social media.

Or — it’s possible we won’t know the new name right away, per the Washington Post:

Two people with knowledge of the team’s plans said Sunday that the preferred replacement name is tied up in a trademark fight, which is why the team can’t announce the new name Monday.

That could be related to what this guy has done in recent weeks. Here is the official statement from the Washington NFL team:

In any case, this is welcome news as it is long past time for “Redskins,” a name that’s widely viewed as racist, to be changed. It’s possible the new name, once they get past whatever this “trademark fight” is, could be in place by the time the Washington NFL team takes the field this fall... that is, if they take the field this fall, something that’s by no means certain due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Which leads me to two problematic baseball team names — Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians. I covered the Indians here last week; they are apparently considering a name change, and good for them. The team already got rid of its offensive caricature of “Chief Wahoo” a year ago, and a name change would put that further in the rear-view mirror.

The Braves, though, don’t think there’s anything wrong with their name. The linked article quotes from an email sent to Atlanta season-ticket holders:

“We have had an active and supportive relationship with the Native American community for many years. Last fall, we furthered this relationship and pledged to meet and listen to Native American and tribal leaders from many areas, including the Eastern Band of the Cherokees [EBCI] in North Carolina. As a result, we formed a cultural working relationship with the EBCI and have also formed a Native American Working Group with a diverse collection of other tribal leaders to collaborate on matters related to culture, education, outreach, and recognition on an on-going basis.

“Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary. We have great respect and reverence for our name and the Native American communities that have held meaningful relationships with us do as well. We will always be the Atlanta Braves.”

This misses the point, by a lot. It doesn’t matter that they have “respect and reverence” for their name and Native American communities. The point is that in the year 2020, groups like this should not be used as sports mascots. Plain and simple, there it is. Regardless of why this name was originally chosen or “Native American Working Groups,” MLB ought to put pressure on the Braves to change their name.

The email cited in the link above also addressed the tomahawk chop chant, which is played over the PA system at Braves home games:

“As it relates to the fan experience, including the chop, it is one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group. The chop was popularized by our fans when Deion Sanders joined our team and it continues to inspire our players on the field. With that in mind, we are continuing to listen to the Native American community, as well as our fans, players, and alumni to ensure we are making an informed decision on this part of our fan experience.”

There are other ways to “inspire” Braves players than playing some sort of fake “war chant” music. The chop needs to stop, and before the Braves play another game, whether fans are in attendance or not. It’s one thing if fans (once they’re permitted back in ballparks) do this on their own; it’s quite another for the team to sanction it. Last year during the Braves/Cardinals division series, Cardinals righthander Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, called the chop “disrespectful”:

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said Friday at SunTrust Park. “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 it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.

“That’s the disappointing part,” he continued in a conversation with The Post-Dispatch. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”

That, right there, that’s the point — not just about the chop, but about the use of Native American names and imagery as mascots.

The Braves’ response? They didn’t pass out foam tomahawks before Game 5 of the division series and issued this statement:

“Out of respect for the concerns expressed by Mr. Helsley, we will take several efforts to reduce the Tomahawk Chop during our in-ballpark presentation today. Among other things, these steps include not distributing foam tomahawks to each seat and not playing the accompanying music or using Chop-related graphics when Mr. Helsley is in the game. As stated earlier, we will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience. We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes.”

Many high schools and colleges that had Native American nicknames and/or mascots have changed them over the last couple of decades. It’s time for professional sports teams to do the same. Major League Baseball could be at the forefront of this movement by urging the Braves and Indians to re-brand. I hope they do so soon.

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