Throwback to Neverwas – by Justin Lovich

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.

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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.

References

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.

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6 thoughts on “Throwback to Neverwas – by Justin Lovich

  1. The issue of Native Americans as mascots has become quite the issue in the past few decades. There have been many protests and objections when it comes to the teams of the Braves, Indians, Seminoles, Fighting Illini and Redskins because they display negative stereotypes and degrade those tribe’s histories and culture. Another trend that has been happening for the past few decades is sports teams creating new jerseys and logos to increase merchandising revenue. So when I read that the Braves created a new jersey with a less offensive logo on it I was not surprised. I believe the Atlanta Braves organization did this to hopefully decrease some of the tension that may be placed upon their organization from the logo and jerseys because of their team’s history with the name. However, I do agree that they aren’t paying much respect and dedication to those teams of the past if they are changing the style of logo and by that not paying much homage to the teams of the past.

  2. What I have known about the mascots or logos of sports teams are only about some NBA teams, and Seminoles and Quakers of UPenn, since in my country the logos of sports teams are always depicted as animals or geographic names which in general have no historical meanings, so I have not thought about this kind of problem before. After finished reading Justin’s article, some ideas came up into my mind. Firstly, how to consider the logos and mascots, especially the ones of historical meanings. In my view, these stuffs should be regarded as the representation of spirit, for instance, seminoles represent fearlessness and encouragement (I think most mascots or logos should reflect this kind of spirit). As a result, when the original image is modified by some aspects, we should critically consider the functions of this action. It maybe indeed eliminate some negative elements of the original image, or highlight meaningful aspects of the specific logos. Referring to the functions of such revises, the second point of my view just came up here, that in this market-share competing environment, marketers or managers of sport teams may change some original imagery to adapt to consumers’ favors, sometimes making the logo more outstanding, or beatiful, or may be as simple as possible to be remembered and recognized. In addition, even though I have experienced disrespectful changes of historical logost, I do think it is never excessive to pay more homage to the teams of the past, since logos might be the last enduring things to loyal fans and elder supporters while surroundings, organizing structures, players, or stadiums change.

  3. Mascots and logos for sports across the U.S. represent the timeless traditions that exhibit and represent those teams. The issue of Native American mascots has also been one of controversy and resilience that set that particular group apart from the rest of the sporting world mascots. There have been many protests and objections to having representation of the Native American population as seen through the various teams that have chosen to use it for their use; the Braves, Florida State Seminoles, the Washington Red Skins, etc. Another trend that has been happening for the past few decades is sports teams suddenly decising to create new team jerseys and logos to increase merchandising revenue and to change/refresh their team for a ‘new’ start; something that will hopefully catch the eye of the consumer. When I read this blog about the Atlanta Braves deciding to create this new logo, I was not surprised at all because many teams before them have chosen to do this for similar reasons. With the team’s history of the name, their goal was to hopefully cut and decrease some of the tension that comes for the oppressed groups with the fact that their logo represents this group of people (Native Americans) in a way that many of them do not agree with. I agree wit the statement, “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), but I would also have to say that with this, their is still that long-standing history that tends to hide the oppression and history of pain the Native Americans went through. The Braves are simply one team trying to make a change to decrease the hate caused from having an offensive logo, while still trying to maintain their organizational history and past beliefs that they created when the team was built. I believe that more teams should look to change and refresh their team logos and mascots as a way to rejuvinate the team and to change any unwanted hate towards the team that takes away from the beliefs and values that the sports team stands for.

  4. If the unified objective of designing the retro-style jersey is to pay homage to the first uniforms worn by the team in Atlanta, then the objective is not being met. Native American mascots represent a number of different things to a various groups of people. The motive for choosing the mascot name and logo is the only thing that should be examined when referencing this topic. In this specific case, replacing the screaming Native American head logo with a new logo of crossed tomahawks, does not commemorate what the original design stood to be.

    The Redskins are the only organization that I can understand facing an issue from the Native American population as well as other communities. The term carries a negative connotation with it . On the other hand, it is certainly hard to find names like Braves or Chiefs offensive. Neither is an outwardly or historically negative term. Instead, they are more reminiscent of pride and leadership and courage. These are the characteristics that I think were originally meant to be exposed when professional and collegiate sports teams chose to have a Native American mascot as a representation of their team.

    The Braves choice to create an entirely different logo than the original can mean one of two things in my mind. As a dominant power within this societal struggle, the decisions they make in regards to their mascot, logo and overall image has a big impact on the sport industry. Some will view this as recognition of the organization’s insensitivity to the manner in which they portrayed Native American people because of the refusal to completely re-brand and disassociate fully with those practices. On the flip side, I think this choice was thought to be the least controversial. With this issue already having stirred up so much controversy over the years, in my opinion, the organization thought this was the best way to honor the past but at the same time moving forward with the positive image of the Native American heritage they have come to represent.

  5. Exploitation is what Americans do best. All over Florida State’s campus visitors can observe many different statues that pay homage our mascot, the Seminole Indians. The creme de la creme would arguably be the Seminole Indian mounted on Renegade, the friendly Appaloosa horse in front of Doake Stadium, otherwise referred to as our “Unconquered” statue. Seminole pride extends to not just campus lawn decor, but all aspects of our community- even the gas stations are adorned with Native American spears. After reading this great post about the controversy swirling around the Braves, I instantly wanted to apply it to my new schools current mascot and delve into similar issues at hand. Although I have been apart of the ‘Nole Nation for eight months now, I still get comments from friends up North about the use of the Seminole tribe as the mascot of my graduate school.

    In my defense of my new mascot and school, I fervently told friends and family that the Seminole group “support” and “like” being affiliated with the University. Also, if Patriots and other bodies can be mascots, why can’t our group of people be a representation of my new school?

    Wrong on many levels. This controversial issue doesn’t just touch Florida State, but about 17 other higher education institutions time and time again for their representations of Native Americans and their use of them as mascots and nicknames (Illinois “Illini” and North Dakota “Fighting Sioux”). The Seminoles and many other schools all have all been involved in controversy surrounding the concept of using a group of people, most of it for financial gain (branding- licensing,). The blog spurs on several questions of human issues and relations. In 2005, this issue was a highly debatable topic when the NCAA gave Florida State heat/attempted to ban the use of the Seminole image and mascot, but later dismissed the case because of the unique relationship Florida State maintained with the Seminole Tribe.

    Our school collectively operates under the notion that we celebrate this group of people, that we represent the fight and vitality of the “Unconquered” but in reality, there is quite a fine line. While the Seminole Tribes’ first attempt to fend off the American conquerors proved victorious, they later were removed to six different reservations located through out Florida. In conclusion, they were pushed out of familial lands, to less valuable and desirable areas and encountered deceitful white people who lured them into promises of fake peace treaties and so on (they never signed one). There was not one, but actually three Seminole wars. By the third Seminole War, more than 3,000 Seminoles had been moved west of the Mississippi River leaving an estimated 200 to 300 Seminoles remaining in Florida, hidden in the swamps.

    Are they still unconquered then? I guess it really depends on who you ask.

  6. I understand the protests against teams that use the names and images of Native Americans, as it pertains to the exploitation of those individuals. It can be argued that those teams have given the effort to honor and pay homage to the native inhabitants of the U.S. The bigger issue to me, which is not discussed in this post, is the Atlanta Braves taking advantage of their supporters in order to capitalize on increasing their sales. The disturbing part of this post are the quotes by Brave team officials stating things such as, “We really hope to confuse fans to the extent they fail to recognize we have re-invented history for the sake of merchandise sales….Remember, this is a marketing ploy.” But should we come to expect this type of conduct?

    The Atlanta Braves are doing what companies are trained to do, increase their profits. According to the market model, the primary responsibility of a company is to maximize their profits. Social responsibility is subsequent. The organization is purposely manipulating their fans. Businesses today use marketing strategies to control the knowledge presented to the public in hopes of “brain-washing” them and influencing them to invest in their company. So what is the bigger issue: the exploitation of Native Americans, the disregarding of following the correct history, or the manipulation of fans? I believe it is the latter.

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