There are seemingly infinite ways for a sports team or its fanbase to go about humiliating itself, and on any given day several franchises are engaged in a heated race to the bottom. But today, with the Braves one win away from capturing a World Series title, nobody’s out-disgracing the people in Cobb County.
It was always true that the Braves received a certain amount of cover from the baseball team over in Cleveland, whose own racist team iconography attracted the most attention from fans who wondered why a professional sports franchise should go on adorning itself in racist caricatures. But that team is going to become the Guardians very soon, which leaves the Braves and their tomahawk chop alone in the spotlight. So far, the fans and the team have relished all of that extra attention. The people in the seats have done their part by loudly and proudly performing the chop several times throughout Atlanta’s World Series home games, and the team held up its end by rolling out the red carpet for Donald Trump.
Right, yes, Trump attended Game 4, and before you ask: Of course he stood in his suite and performed the chop with all the verve of a Chuck E. Cheese animatronic.
This is obviously the only reason Trump wanted to attend the game. If the man has a talent for anything, it’s his ability to know exactly when to stumble into the middle of a culture war and further inflame things for the sake of burnishing his own personal brand. He went full-speed, releasing a statement before the game implying that he had been personally invited to attend by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. MLB denied this characterization in a statement to Yahoo Sports, but Trump still received a warm welcome from the Braves. Last week, team CEO Terry McGuirk told USA Today that Trump had asked for tickets to the game, and that the team had obliged by reserving a suite for him.
“He called MLB and wanted to come to the game,’’ McGuirk said. “We were very surprised. Of course, we said yes.’’
Trump will not be sitting with MLB or club officials, McGuirk said.
“We are going to give him his own suite,’’ McGuirk said.
Asked if he was concerned about Trump’s polarizing presence, McGuirk said they had no objection.
“We are apolitical,’’ McGuirk said. “We’re open to anyone coming. It’s great that he wants to come to our game.’’USA Today
As impressive as McGuirk’s attempt to make it seem like a former president can just sort of passively end up ensconced in a luxury suite was, Trump’s presence at the game was explicitly transactional. McGuirk wanted him in a prominent place within the stadium because he wanted whatever shine comes from having a former president at one of your games—here’s where moving the team to the white suburbs of Cobb County really pays off—and Trump wanted to be there so he could be captured triggering the libs on camera.
If this all feels like a sideshow, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. A Braves executive or fan might give a long speech about tradition and enthusiasm and harmless fun if asked why the tomahawk chop continues to happen at Braves games, but nobody’s buying that anymore. This is purely a culture-war front. Maybe in 1999 you could have chalked the persistence of the chop up to fans not knowing any better, but this is the era of the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Guardians. In 2021, everyone in the Braves’ stadium knows exactly what they are doing, and why they are doing it, when the chop gets started.
It’s that knowledge that adds an extra layer of grime to this specific situation. When the WFT and Guardians were trading on and profiting from racist imagery, the responsibility mostly fell on the heads of the owners and executives. There was the odd white psychopath who insisted on attending a game in full Native American regalia, but for the most part the fans were a relatively passive faction. It’s different in Cobb County, where the team and the fans are walking hand in hand. The team fled the city precisely so that it could fill its stadium with the sort of white suburbanites who would heartily co-sign the organization’s stubborn refusal to let old, racist traditions die. And those fans have rewarded the team by packing the stadium and turning into the kind of place where Donald Trump feels welcome.
What you’re left with is a lot of people, from the front office down to the cheap seats, all making an individual choice to demonstrate how little they care for anyone else. It’s a perverse sort of solidarity, but it’s a powerful one.