The Atlanta Braves just won the World Series for only the second time in their history. It’s a huge victory not just for the team, but for all of Atlanta and Georgia, which has been starved of sporting success for decades. It’s also the perfect time for the Braves to finally address the problem of their racially insensitive name, and change it to something that doesn’t demean Native Americans.
If you grew up as an Atlanta sports fan, like me, you know how miserable it can be. Atlanta’s pro sports teams have felt cursed for decades. The Falcons and Hawks have never won a championship in over 50 seasons each, and despite an unprecedented run of making the playoffs throughout the ‘90s and the ‘00s, the Braves only just won their second. The Falcons own the most embarrassing Super Bowl defeat in memory, when they blew a 28-3 lead and lost in overtime. Based an hour outside of Atlanta, the University of Georgia’s football team, the Bulldogs, saw a similar defeat in the national title game a year later, with a 13-0 lead over Alabama at the half turning into an overtime loss. Few cities have seen that combination of sustained, decades-long losing, only to blow it in spectacular, embarrassing fashion once a team does make it to the final game. Years of losing just beats a fan base down, making them wonder why they even still care, whereas a last-minute defeat like the Super Bowl debacle feels like having your heart ripped out of your chest. Neither’s pleasant. Atlanta’s been known as Loserville since 1975, when the Atlanta Constitution gave it that name after a decade of sports futility; the last few years have made the pain behind that name more acute.
Of course there’s another kind of pain that the Atlanta Braves have caused over the decades, one felt by Native Americans who feel mocked and ridiculed by the team’s name and its fans’ “Tomahawk Chop” chant. The name “Braves” might not be as blatantly racist as the prior names of Washington’s football team or Cleveland’s baseball team, but it’s still a reference to archaic racial stereotypes that turn real live people into cartoons. The Chop is an outright embarrassment that needs to be actively discouraged by the team; the Braves name is one that never should’ve had a place in our culture, but is especially outdated and out of line today. As major league sports finally come to grips with the racism found in some of its teams’ names and iconography, it’s only a matter of time before the Braves are forced to rename themselves into something less offensive. Instead of waiting to be coerced into that, wouldn’t it be better for the Braves to take the initiative and change it themselves during the afterglow of a world championship?
Many Braves fans will be upset by a name change. Many people who have never cared about the Braves and can’t name a single one of their ‘90s starting pitchers will respond with trumped up buffoonish outrage about a mythical “cancel culture,” angling to score political points off of something they don’t actually care about and have no reason to weigh in on. That second group will moan no matter when the inevitable name change happens; the first group, the only group that matters—the people who love this team and these players and who felt that rush of inspiration and pride when they won the World Series—would still probably recoil at any name change, but it would be greatly tempered by the excitement of a World Series victory. This is the most popular the Braves have been with their own fans since they last won the World Series in 1995, making this the ideal time to rip off that band aid and give the team a new name. In an ideal world the Braves would’ve announced their new team name (right before announcing a new contract extension for future Hall of Famer Freddie Freeman) at least week’s victory parade in Atlanta. There’s still time to get it done before that championship buzz wears off.
Those who defend the Atlanta Braves name, including both the team and MLB, point to the organization’s relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians—ignoring the many other tribes and Native organizations that oppose the Chop and the name. The Braves call the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which is based in North Carolina, hours away from Atlanta, “the largest federally recognized tribe in our region.” Of course, there are no other tribes or groups closer to Atlanta because they were all forcibly removed from Georgia in the 1830s. Thousands of Cherokee perished on the forced walk to Oklahoma, as their lands in Georgia were stolen by farmers and miners. The fact that the Braves couldn’t find any officially organized Native groups in Georgia to sign off on their name, and had to reach out to a group in another state, only underscores the horrific treatment inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of North America. And that, in turn, only underscores how cruel and unacceptable it is to continue to mock them in the names of our sports teams.
As far as a new name goes, there’s one suggestion that stands out above the rest. I’m not sure who first floated the idea of renaming the Braves to the Atlanta Hammers, but it’s a perfect solution. The greatest Brave of them all, Henry Aaron, known to all as Hank Aaron, passed away earlier this year; his nickname was Hammerin’ Hank, and if any player deserves to have an entire team named in their honor, it’s Hank Aaron. Aaron remains the true home run champ, a player who excelled above all others in the face of tremendous adversity, and the most honored and beloved player in the franchise’s 150-year history (not all of which was spent as the Braves—they only adopted that name after more than 40 years of existence). He’s earned the honor. It’s also a name that could easily be tweaked into the current Braves iconography; here’s a Uni Watch post from January with a mock-up of potential Hammers logos and uniforms, all of which represent only a slight change to what Braves fans are currently accustomed to.
Just so you’re sure, I’m not saying this as some outsider. I’ve been a Braves fan for as long as I’ve known that baseball existed. I was born in Atlanta. I was raised in the South, both Florida and north Georgia, back when every single Braves game was televised nationally on TBS. Back then everybody in the South was a Braves fan because the closest any other MLB team got to the South was the Cincinnati Reds. Dale Murphy is still my hero. I went to Cooperstown with my dad and brothers when Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux were all inducted in 2014 (along with former Braves player and manager Joe Torre, and Georgia native Frank Thomas.) I’ve had my issues with the Atlanta Braves’ management and ownership over the last few years, but I’ve never stopped loving this team or its players. And I fully support them changing the team’s name now, by their own choice, in the wake of a glorious victory, and not when they’re inevitably forced to do so by Major League Baseball in a few years.
Note: The Atlanta United won the MLS Cup in 2018, in only its second season, but since that goes against the “Loserville” narrative it largely goes unmentioned by most Atlanta sports fans.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin. He was there at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium when Sid Bream slid into home base to win Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.