The 2021 World Series Is Historically Jewish. I Can’t Bring Myself to Watch.

I'd love to root for these impressive Jewish athletes, but the racism on display with the "tomahawk chop" is indefensible.

The 2021 World Series is a showcase of Jewish baseball talent.

On the Atlanta Braves, you have Joc Pederson, darling of this year’s postseason for his offensive output and fun reason for wearing pearls, and Max Fried, whom the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has said “may well be the best Jewish pitcher since Sandy Koufax.” Meanwhile, on the Astros, you’ve got a two-time All-Star and 2019 runner-up for American League MVP in Alex Bregman. And, excitingly, catcher Garrett Stubbs was recently added to the Astros World Series roster, giving him the potential to see some action in the Fall Classic.

Tonight, the Braves and Astros will go head to head in Game 6, a do-or-die for Houston as they retake home field advantage. But despite my love for all things baseball and Jewish athletic excellence, I won’t be watching. I actually haven’t watched a second of this World Series.

The reason? Two words: tomahawk chop.

The tomahawk chop is a celebratory gesture performed by Braves fans, and fans of other teams who are named after and use Native Americans as their mascot. In Atlanta, the chop is sometimes performed with red, foam tomahawks and accompanied by a loud drumbeat over the stadium speakers while fans chant in a stereotypical, faux Native American war cry.

Bottom line: It’s racist. (It also happens to look dangerously similar to a “Heil Hitler” salute, something that as a Jewish fan I can’t unsee.) And people have been calling it out for a very long time; since the Braves adopted the chop from Florida State University Seminoles fans around 1991, it’s been decried as racist.

But, as expected, it’s also been defended by members of the Braves organization. In 1991, the director of public relations Jim Schultz claimed the tomahawk chop was “a proud expression of unification and family.” And then it was defended by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred just last week, who called it a “a local issue,” saying that Native Americans from Atlanta are “wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that’s the end of the story.”

Except that on October 27, the National Congress of American Indians released a statement, condemning the chop. The statement said, in part, “In our discussions with the Atlanta Braves, we have repeatedly and unequivocally made our position clear – Native people are not mascots, and degrading rituals like the ‘tomahawk chop’ that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society.”

If you still have any doubts as to whether the chop is racist, 1) get a grip and 2) please watch this video of former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump gleefully participating in the chop:

 

If it walks like a racist and quacks like a racist…

What’s truly baffling to me is that Major League Baseball has previously taken steps to end other examples of racism against Native people in the league. In 2018, the Cleveland Indians stopped using their racist “Chief Wahoo” logo and just this year announced that in 2022 they will be renaming the team the Cleveland Guardians. How is taking steps to end the chop any different? Why is the chop the racist hill that Major League Baseball wants to die on?

Granted, I am not Indigenous, and I accept the possibility that there are Indigenous people who have no issues with the tomahawk chop like Commissioner Manfred claims. Much like the Jewish community, the Indigenous community is not a monolith. But, for me, the fact that there are even a few Native Americans, let alone numerous individuals and Native organizations, who are saying this is racist, demeaning and dehumanizing is enough for me.

What’s not baffling to me is my moral compass — my love for Jews in sports and pop culture doesn’t outweigh my belief that as a person and as a Jew, I cannot just accept open hatred towards others. While I hope Joc, Max, Alex and Garrett perform to the best of their abilities and individually have a great World Series, I refuse to view a sporting event that is perpetuating harm against another community. (Further, I hope Joc and Max are not only not participating in the chop, but also reflecting on how to change the culture of their fanbase.)

I have far better ways to spend my time than watching a contest between an organization that cheats and an organization which props up white supremacy.

While this personal boycott is also giving me the opportunity to consider how I plan on engaging with Major League Baseball in the future, I know that it’s not enough, which is why I plan to give tzedakah to some of the incredible Indigenous organizations on this list

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