This upcoming Major League Baseball season, the Atlanta Braves will incorporate an alternate throwback-style uniform, without any of the mess of the actual history they commemorate. Since the Braves have taken to re-writing history, I have followed their lead and re-written the news report about the jersey’s unveiling.
ATLANTA – March 13, 2012 – Fans of the Atlanta Braves will see history for the first time this season, manufactured by the team in the form of a throwback jersey for fans to purchase.
Alternate cream-colored throwback uniforms will be worn by the team on Saturdays and Sundays, just enough to entice fans to buy the apparel. Unlike the original jersey, the retro-style jersey will introduce a brand new logo, never before seen, to commemorate the historic teams of yesteryear. According to the team, “The new uniforms are really designed to pay homage to the 1966 uniforms, our first when we moved [to Altanta] from Milwaukee” (Livingstone, 2012). However, the team is reflecting on history by rewriting it. Whereas the 1966 jerseys included a logo featuring a screaming Native American head on the sleeve, these fabricated historic replica jerseys will include a new logo with crossed tomahawks encircled with “1876 Atlanta Braves,” the team’s current name and the year the National League began.
“We really hope to confuse fans to the extent they fail to recognize we have re-invented history for the sake of merchandise sales,” said one Braves team official. “We recognize that the team was created as the Boston Red Stockings in 1871, but we wanted to construct a faux authentic feel to the brand new historic jersey. Moreover, if we are going to rewrite history, we should be comprehensive. Let us rewrite history in the symbol used to rewrite history.”
When asked why not be true to the history of that 1966 team and include the Native American head logo, one unnamed source replied, “If we fully honor the team we were in 1966, we would be honoring a group that used blatant images to exploit an underrepresented people. This way, we can honor the team and capture a desired nostalgic experience without the hindrances of those negative symbolic representations.”
The source continued poignantly, “We want to exercise some control over our organizational identity. We no longer want to be known the organization that has historically overtly exploited the identities of a people. We prefer to be known as a part of a long-standing tradition of commercializing sporting ventures, and we intend to be more subtle in our oppression in the future. Remember, this is a marketing ploy. The old logo was grossly offensive. It looks like it has piranha teeth. Kids would be terrified. It just would not sell.”
The historical inaccuracies of the jersey represent a long struggle over the identities of Native Americans and the meanings attached to those identities. While some scholars contend that such identities have been misappropriated by sport organizations and used to denigrate and disrespect Native Americans (e.g. Jensen, 1994), others argue that use of such imagery can be an homage to Native Americans while upholding sporting traditions, only offending the hypersensitive (e.g. Robidoux, 2006).
However, the substitution of one overt symbol on the sleeve of a part-time jersey for a more subdued image symbolizing the same exploitation cannot erase the spaces of representation that exist throughout a Braves game. The Tomahawk Chop performed at every game, for example, is a movement intended to represent a Native American ritual; it more accurately replicates the bodily movements of spaces across Florida State University’s campus where the chant-and-gesture ritual became famous in the 1980s. The chronic representation of Native Americans as caricatures depicted in western movies, as primitive people with minimal communication skills and rudimentary tools ill-equipped to cope with modern civilization, also preserves a subversive position of Native Americans within society.
Additionally, this historical cleansing represents a politics of history, in which certain segments of a society assign meaning to time passed. This half-measure by the Braves organization is an implied recognition that they, a dominant power within this societal struggle, have previously been, and may currently be, insensitive to the manner in which they portrayed Native American people, while refusing to completely re-brand and disassociate fully with those practices. In this way, the Braves offer hegemonic image, a watered-down Native American symbol intended to minimize the offensive perception to the extent that the majority within society does not oppose and consents to the depiction by default.
The history of this Braves organization has a familiar tone. After all, this team first settled in New England, only to find a crowded marketplace and an inhospitable community. They moved westward, in hopes of a new beginning, landing in a town with a native name, Milwaukee. Again, the promise of riches prompted a final uprooting, moving to Atlanta. This team had meandered nomadically across the continent, searching desperately for a place to call home. Along the way, they showed significant disregard to the native people whom they were violating and disrespecting.
“We think these uniforms reflect the timeless tradition of Braves baseball,” said a high-ranking team official. “In honoring our past we retain a classic look yet move forward with an updated design” (Livingstone, 2012).
Indeed, the Braves’ timeless tradition of insulting Native Americans remains intact. Now they move forward, with an updated design for avoiding accountability for past transgressions.
This jersey represents a throwback to a time that never was.
Jensen, R. (1994). Banning ‘Redskins’ from the sports page: the ethics and politics of Native American nicknames. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 9(1), 16-25.
Livingstone, S. (2012, February 7). Atlanta Braves replace logo on new uniforms. Retrieved March 1, 2012, from USA Today: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/dailypitch/post/2012/02/atlanta-braves-go-politically-correct-ditching-indian-logo/1#.T12OOjGiF2B
Robidouc, M. (2006). The nonsense of Native American sport imagery: reclaiming a ast that never was. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 41(2), 201-219.