Like it or not, we live in an era of political correctness. Cross PC boundaries, and you can quickly find yourself in hot water, putting friendships, relationships, your reputation and perhaps even your job or business at risk. As a society, we have become hyper-sensitive, and the old saying about “sticks and stones” no longer applies. It’s an atmosphere I find to be a drag.
Lew Gilliland is assistant editor of The Daily Home. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully support confronting and fighting racism and discrimination where they exist. Language, actions, gestures and ideas that are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc., have no place in our society and should be challenged and dismissed. I believe our country has made tremendous strides in this endeavor, but I also acknowledge we still have work to do.
What bothers me, however, is when somebody decides to take offense at something where none was meant and then uses that imaginary slight to brand others as racist, intolerant or whatever. Whether it’s done to score political points or simply out of ignorance, I find it to be unacceptable and something that, like true racism itself, should be challenged.
And when that kind of PC bunk finds its way into the games I love, it bothers me even more. That happened last week during the baseball playoff series between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
After a game in Atlanta, Derrick Goold, a writer with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, decided to ask Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley about the tomahawk chop and chant that are popular among Braves fans. Helsley, an Oklahoma native and member of the Cherokee Nation, called the chop and chant disappointing and disrespectful.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told Goold. “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 article went on to say that Helsley had read up on the chop’s background, and the player himself seemed almost baffled the Braves have allowed it to be a part of the Atlanta baseball experience for nearly three decades.
Let me say up front that Helsley is entitled to his opinion. He seems like an intelligent, decent and good guy, and I’m sorry if he’s offended by the chop. I don’t doubt the sincerity of his beliefs, but I believe he is assigning meaning and symbolism to the cheer that simply aren’t there.
As for Mr. Goold, maybe he really was just asking what he thought was an interesting question, or maybe he had other intentions in mind. I apologize for being cynical, but out-of-town media attempting to brand Braves fans as racists, in part because of the chop, isn’t exactly a new thing.
The chop and chant became a part of Braves baseball during the worst-to-first summer of 1991, when a team that had been a joke for the better part of a decade suddenly became a contender. The tradition began with a few fans doing the chop to salute Braves outfielder and former Florida State standout Deion Sanders — FSU fans have done the chop and chant for years at home games in Tallahassee — and it took hold among the Atlanta faithful over the course of the summer as the team began to surge.
By September, it was a staple at Braves games, and all of a sudden, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, then the team’s home, went from being one of the worst atmospheres in baseball to one of the most electric. The World Series-bound Braves and their chanting and chopping fans became the biggest surprise and best story of the 1991 baseball season. It was simply magical. The combination of a winning team and the chop and chant helped bind the Braves and their fans in way nothing had before. It was refreshing, it was new and it was fun, and the last thing anybody was trying to do was belittle or misrepresent Native Americans in any shape, form or fashion.
And, by the way, the media couldn’t get enough of it — at first. Out-of-town writers and broadcasters coming into Atlanta during the pennant race couldn’t believe the transformation. I can remember CBS, which held the rights to the playoffs and World Series that fall, running commercials that invited fans to “spend an evening at the Chop Shop” during the postseason.
Nobody seemed the least bit offended — right up until the World Series. While there were some protests in Atlanta, most of the outrage came from Native Americans in Minnesota and some Minnesota media outlets. Of course, the Minnesota Twins were Atlanta’s opponent in that World Series, making the outrage from up north feel somewhat ... convenient.
Said one prominent Braves fan of the chop, “With the Braves on top, we have a brave, courageous and successful team, and I think we can look on the American Indians as brave, successful and attractive.”
That particular fan was former President Jimmy Carter, hardly someone who could be described as a man of racism or hate.
Nevertheless, in the years since, as our society has become ever more PC, accusations and implications that chopping and chanting Braves fans are just a bunch of insensitive, ignorant racists have continued to grow. And, frankly, those accusations get old, mainly because they’re not based in fact.
Nevertheless, it won’t surprise me if Major League Baseball eventually orders the Braves organization to discourage fans from doing the chop and take other steps to bring the tradition to an end. We live in the United States of the Offended, and as the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. That will be a big day for the PC crowd. I hope they’ll forgive me for not celebrating with them.
Lew Gilliland is managing editor of The Daily Home. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.