President Joe Biden believes it is important to have a “conversation” about the name of the Atlanta Braves and the team’s controversial tomahawk-chop chant, his spokeswoman said as the White House hosted the World Series winners Monday.
“He has consistently emphasized that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at the White House. “We should listen to Native American and indigenous people who are the most impacted by this.”
Biden called the Braves’ 2021 drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again.
Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the person most discussed was Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who died in January at 86.
“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.
Biden himself said nothing about the team’s name or the chant in public remarks while meeting Braves players and staff, including pitcher Max Fried, shortstop Dansby Swanson, and third baseman Austin Riley.
Some professional sports teams — including Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians and the National Football League’s Washington Commanders — recently changed their names from longtime monikers that referred to Native Americans. But the Braves have so far resisted doing so, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred defended the team during their World Series run last year.
Manfred said that the Native American community in the Atlanta region was “wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop.”
The National Congress of American Indians subsequently issued a statement criticizing Manfred and the team’s use of native imagery.
Following the controversy, former President Donald Trump attended a World Series game at Atlanta’s stadium and was seen performing the chop gesture.
The sitting president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs, poses for photos, and comes away with a team jersey.
Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with Trump’s policies and rhetoric. Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday, he joked about First Lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.
“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said.
He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.