[It’s been another year, that’s for sure. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to highlight a handful of things that have made me happy this year—and, yes, to complicate and analyze them, because I yam what I yam. I’d love to hear your year highlights and takeaways as well!]
On nostalgia, rituals and names, and the need to move forward.
The magical 1991 Atlanta Braves season remains one of my favorite memories and experiences to this day. Everyone talks about how they went “worst to first,” but I think it’s important to add that we’re not just talking about 1990—the Braves had been one of the worst teams (if not the worst team) in baseball for at least 5-6 years (ie, most of my childhood fandom) prior to their stunning turnaround. So while they didn’t win the World Series in 1991 (although they came about as close as it’s possible for a team to come without doing so; I don’t recommend Braves fans watch that hyperlinked game, though), each in every one of those October baseball moments felt as surprising and stunning as the next. And each and every one of them was inextricably linked with the Tomahawk Chop, the newly adopted fan celebration that I’m quite sure 14-year-old Ben was performing right alongside all those other fans throughout those magical moments.
Fast-forward to 2021, and this season’s almost-as-surprising and even-more-successful Atlanta Braves playoff run. I loved sharing that run with my sons, who are very similar in age to 1991 Ben (if not nearly as lifelong baseball fans—but they’ve adopted the Braves as their MLB team, so it was a deeply meaningful shared sports experience nonetheless). But not only were we not chopping along with the Braves fans, the continued presence of the Chop (which is not limited to the Braves, but still most fully associated with them for sure, and in any case two wrongs don’t make a right) provided a very definite and frustrating blemish on what should have been an unalloyed positive in this difficult year. As someone who also grew up a Washington Redskins fan, I get the way in which our nostalgia (such a powerful force in sports fandom, and one we can and do pass along to our kids) can make it seem that changing such longstanding rituals or elements is destructive. But not only is it really, really not, it’s the rituals and elements themselves that are damaging in both these cases.
In one of my adult learning classes this past semester, I dedicated a class to racism and anti-racism in sports, and we talked at some length about team names and mascots. In response to a student question about why the name “Cleveland Indians” is racist, given that many Native Americans themselves have returned to the term “American Indian” in recent years, I offered two answers: treating a community and culture as a sports symbol is very strange (we really don’t do it with any other cultures, and certainly no other current ones); and in cases like that one, it’s impossible to separate that potentially neutral name from far more blatantly racist imagery like the rightfully infamous Chief Wahoo. The same is true with the name “Braves”—it’s impossible to separate it from ongoing racist elements like the Chop, as well as historic ones like Chief Noc-A-Homa (seriously). I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this latest Braves World Series win than with doing away with the Chop—but changing the team name (I’m personally partial to the Atlanta Hammers) would be a great step as well.
Next review post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? 2021 stories you’d highlight?