ATLANTA — Cheering isn’t allowed in the press box for professional journalists, but I’ll be honest. When the Los Angeles Dodgers sealed their best-of-five National League Division Series Monday night at SunTrust Park against the Atlanta Braves with a 6-2 beatdown in Game 4, I nearly stood up and did whatever is the opposite of the tomahawk chop.
I also wanted to yell for joy, but trust me. It wouldn’t have been close to resembling the tomahawk chant.
Here we are in 2018, when most pro and college teams not named the Washington Redskins have gotten away from anything that hints of offending Native Americans, and neither Major League Baseball officials nor those who run the Braves have gotten the message. Either that, or they don’t care. They haven’t a problem with a ballpark full of mostly white fans embarrassing themselves throughout the season with 19th century stuff. Every game around here, folks do their chopping with red foam-rubber tomahawks while delivering their version of “Indians” hollering down mountains in pursuit of cowboys during black-and-white westerns.
All of that backward thinking surfaced for the Braves Sunday night during their first home playoff game in five years. With the Dodgers leading 2-0 in the series after they dominated the Braves on the west coast, the SunTrust Park people running the scoreboards and the organ worked overtime for Game 3. The former kept flashing louder and LOUDER with a cartoon tomahawk on the screen, and the latter threatened to wear out the tom-tom beat.
Eventually, fans were chopping and chanting out of their minds, especially in the second inning. The craziness rattled Dodgers rookie pitcher Walker Buehler into walking pitcher Sean Newcomb with the bases loaded before he delivered a pitch to Ronald Acuna that made the 20-year-old the youngest player in baseball history to rip a grand slam during a postseason game.
The chopping and the chanting intensified for many of those who helped the Braves’ total revenue increase 47 percent last year to $124 million during their first season at SunTrust Park.
It was uncomfortable, but it was fun.
Then it was scary.
I looked at the faces Sunday of those doing the chopping and the chanting, and I didn’t like what I saw. I had similar thoughts Monday, when the chopping and the chanting became an epidemic during the game. Along those lines, Braves officials continued their new tradition of dimming the lights to watch Braves fans chant as usual while ditching their foam-rubber tomahawks for smartphones turned to flashlight mode.
I mean, really? How is this happening with the Braves when baseball officials joined those of the Cleveland (ahem) Indians earlier this year to say 2018 will be the last season of Chief Wahoo, the (ahem) Tribe’s racist logo of 71 years? I graduated from Miami (Ohio) University, where the sports teams were the Redskins for a generation before they became the RedHawks during the latter 1990s. St. John’s went from Redmen to Red Storm, Marquette swapped Warriors for Golden Eagles, and other colleges and high schools have followed a similar path. Still, folks have shrugged over the Braves’ choppers and chanters for decades.
My hand is raised. I’ve been a journalist in Atlanta since 1985, and I’m among the guilty who praised the chopping and the chanting after it first surfaced at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium during the summer of 1991. That’s when the usually brutal Braves threatened to blossom into something wonderful. The whole thing supposedly began in honor of Deion Sanders, the dual star of the Braves and the Atlanta Falcons who went to Florida State, where the Seminoles perfected chopping and chanting.
The more those 1991 Braves rose from worst to first along the way to their first World Series since their Milwaukee days during the late 1950s, the more prominent was the chopping and the chanting. Many embraced it (including myself), because it was something fresh, and it rattled opponents in a clean way while inspiring the home team. It remained a constant for the franchise through its run to a record 14 consecutive division titles that included a World Series championship in 1995, and from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to Turner Field and now to SunTrust Park, nothing has changed.
The world has changed, though.