Whither the Braves?

By Dr. Harold A. Black

I love baseball. Thus far my two favorite teams, the Atlanta Braves and the Baltimore Orioles, have the best record in their respective leagues. The Braves represent my hometown – even though their ballpark is not in Atlanta. The Cobb County Braves? But then the “New York” Giants/Jets play in New Jersey. The Orioles are a favorite from when I lived in DC which had no baseball – the Washington Senators having morphed into the Texas Rangers. So I went to Baltimore for baseball.

The Braves are a holdout, thus far resisting all pressure to change their name. However, their Triple-A team in Gwinnett is now the “Stripers” and their Class-A club in Rome has announced that it will no longer be the Braves leaving the Double-A club in Mississippi as the only one with the Braves name. Hopefully, the Braves will remain the Braves.

The Washington Redskins after saying it would never change its name, folded under relentless pressure and became the Washington Football Club and then the Commanders. I guess they could now be called the Washington Commies. The Cleveland Indians became the Guardians. What is interesting about the name Guardians is that the last four letters are the same as the ones in Indians. Thus, Cleveland kept part of the name after all. What is even more interesting is that a Native American group is threatening to boycott the Commanders if they don’t change their name back to Redskins. And the name of the group is the Native American Guardians Association! I kid you not. In a letter to the Commanders, the group said “At this moment in history, we are formally requesting that the team revitalize its relationship with the American Indian community by (i) changing the name back to ‘The Redskins’ which recognizes America’s original inhabitants and (ii) using the team’s historic name and legacy to encourage Americans to learn about, not cancel, the history of America’s tribes and our role in the founding of this Great Nation.” The group has over 100,000 signatures on a petition to change the name.

The irony is overwhelming. The Cleveland Indians changed their name to the Guardians because the cancel culture deemed “Indians” as being offensive. But Native Americans also call themselves Guardians. Is that not offensive as well? Then the Native Americans who were supposed to be offended by “Redskins” are demanding that the Commanders change their name back to Redskins or else be boycotted. You can’t make this stuff up.

Note that all the supposedly derogatory nicknames connote bravery and stature rather than scorn and derision. Yes, the Atlanta Braves once had a teepee in the outfield and a mascot named Chief Nok-a-homa who did a war dance every time a Brave hit a home run. But all that is gone. The baseball team that preceded the Braves was a minor league team called the Atlanta Crackers. So why weren’t white folks offended? What is hilarious is that the Atlanta Negro League team was known as the Black Crackers.

What about the name Rebels? Here in East Tennessee we have the West High Rebels and the Maryville High Red Rebels. I am truly shocked that those names still exist because much of East Tennessee was pro-Union and these high schools disrespect their ancestors who wore blue. Of course, we still have the Ole Miss Rebels. When I went to the University of Georgia, the band was called the Dixie Redcoat Marching Band and played Dixie after the National Anthem. I auditioned for the band having been offered five band scholarships out of high school. The band director acknowledged my talent but said that I could not be in his band. The football games looked like a Ku Klux Klan rally with all the Confederate flags. All the tailgaters flew rebel flags. I went to all the home football games and was the only black face in the stadium not carrying a mop or a broom. At the games I had rebel flags waved in my face while the wavers yelled obscenities and showered me with debris. Is it any wonder that I hate the rebel flag? Twenty years ago I turned down an interview for a deanship at Ole Miss because of all their rebel nonsense. However, all that stuff is gone. Ole Miss football and basketball teams are now mostly black. Once watching a basketball game with Ole Miss versus Mississippi State, all ten players were black. At one point when Ole Miss got a rebound, the announcer said “Here come the Rebels!” My feeling is that if they aren’t bothered by being called “Rebels” then why should I be offended for them?