The Atlanta Braves nickname has been under scrutiny for years. With the passing of Hank Aaron on Friday, there have been calls for the team to change its name to honor the one-time home run king. Associated Press file photo

In July, the Atlanta Braves announced they had no plans to follow the lead of the Washington NFL franchise, which had dropped a nickname many considered to be a racial slur.

“We will always be the Atlanta Braves,” the team said in a letter to season ticket holders. “Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary.”

That stance apparently did not change in December, when the Cleveland Indians announced they would eventually drop their nickname in favor of one that has nothing to do with Native Americans. The Braves were silent on the issue.

But amid the remembrances of MLB icon Hank Aaron after his death on Friday, a number of people have suggested that the Braves rethink that position to honor the one-time home run king, who played almost his entire career for the franchise in Milwaukee or Atlanta.

The Braves, they say, should consider changing their name to the Hammers, a nod to Aaron’s wonderfully alliterative nickname.

Logos already have been created. T-shirts already have been made.

Even fellow Braves legend Dale Murphy seems keen on the idea, and has been for some time. “Always felt ‘Hammerin’ Hank’, ‘The Hammer’ was one of the coolest nicknames ever… and the ‘Atlanta Hammers’? Love it!” he tweeted.

The Braves did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the Hammers idea is under consideration.

Calls to rename the Braves are not a recent development. In 1972, when Native American activist Russell Means sued the Cleveland Indians for $9 million because of their name, he also pledged to take aim at the Braves, particularly because of their Chief Noc-A-Homa mascot, who danced around a tepee erected in the left-field seats at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

“What if it was the Atlanta Germans and after every home run a German dressed in a military uniform began hitting a Jew on the head with a baseball bat?” Means said. “Or what if it were the Cleveland Negroes and a black man came trotting out of a shanty in center field and did a soft shoe?”

The Braves retired Chief Noc-A-Homa, who for most of his existence was portrayed by a Native American named Levi Walker, before the 1986 season. But controversy over the team’s nickname and the in-game tomahawk chop chant lingered. During the 2019 National League Division Series between the Braves and St. Louis, Cardinals relief pitcher Ryan Helsley, a Cherokee Nation member, called out the Braves for their continued acceptance of the chant at home games.

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot of 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 Redskins and stuff like that.

“That’s the disappointing part,” he continued. “That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think.”

Braves President and Chief Executive Derek Schiller said in July that the team was having “ongoing” discussions about the future use of the tomahawk chop.

“It’s a topic that deserves a lot of debate and a lot of discussion and a lot of thoughtfulness, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

But Schiller also said the Braves nickname “means somebody who possesses courage, is a warrior. So for me, it’s held in high regard and it’s esteemed by the Native American culture and it’s powerful. It’s very representative of strength and honor.”

While the National Congress of American Indians has long opposed “race-based mascots, logos, symbols, and stereotypes” and has said the Tomahawk Chop “reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated,” opinions about the Braves nickname among Native Americans are somewhat divided.

Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, told the AJC that the nickname didn’t personally bother him and that it “is an acknowledgment of the strength and the courage and the warrior spirit of Native Americans throughout history.”

But Brett Chapman, a Native American rights attorney of Ponca, Kiowa and Pawnee heritage, said that so long as the team’s nickname remains the Braves, the Tomahawk Chop and other Indian-themed imagery, some of it problematic, will stick around.

“Everything kind of flows from that name,” Chapman told the AJC. “So as long as you’ve got this Native American-type mascot, name, or any imagery, that’s going to happen. That chanting’s going to happen, the tomahawk chop’s going to happen. Things change in this world.

Teams change names all the time, the Charlotte Hornets, the Charlotte Bobcats, it happens all the time. It’s not going to hurt them to change the name. And when they do, they can start a new tradition.”

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