by Kevin Burton
In January I wrote about the great Hank Aaron in the context of including Negro League Statistics as official MLB stats (“Of Hank Aaron, Uncle Pint And Statistics,” Jan. 16).
Sadly Aaron died a few days later, on Jan. 22, at the age of 86.
Shortly after that an Associated Press story reported that some Atlanta baseball fans were calling on the team to change its name to the “Hammers” in his honor.
“Hammers” comes from Aaron’s nickname, Hammerin’ Hank. Aaron’s 1990 autobiography is called “I Had A Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story.”
Aaron is the greatest player in Atlanta team history and the all-time leading home run hitter in Major League Baseball among players who did not cheat by taking steroids.
According to the AP story there is an online petition in favor of the name change.
“The renaming serves two important purposes,” reads the petition. “One, it honors an icon who represented our city with grace and dignity for more than half a century, and two, it removes the stain on the city of having a team name that dishonors native and indigenous people, especially given one of the greatest tragedies in American history, the Trail of tears, began in the region the team calls home.”
“Win-wins like this are rare,” wrote Erik Brady on theundefeated.com. “The Atlanta club can honor its own and rid itself of the dishonor it has clung to for more than a century, through three great American cities from northeast to Midwest to deep south.”
“Atlanta’s baseball executives have given no indication they are considering a change,” Brady wrote. “But the chance to make two thing right with one swing is right there in front of them. It’s a hanging curveball. Hammerin’ Hank would have known what to do with a pitch like that.”
Flags flew at half-mast in both Georgia and Aaron’s birth state of Alabama after his death. A more lasting tribute seems appropriate, but he’s been snubbed before.
I was annoyed but not surprised in 1997 when Atlanta built a new baseball stadium and named it Turner Field after millionaire team owner Ted Turner rather than naming it after Aaron.
There is some chance Atlanta will finally get it right, in light of a national wave of sports teams eliminating nicknames that defame Native Americans. They will probably be shamed and pressured into changing the name to something else. Why not honor Aaron at the same time?
The Shawnee Mission School Board in my home state of Kansas, voted unanimously Jan. 20 that district schools must retire “Indians” and “Braves” nicknames currently being used. That means one high school and three elementary schools must change their names.
The Wichita School Board followed suit in a unanimous vote Feb. 8 ruling that Wichita North High must retire its “Redskins” nickname within two years.
“A committee created by Wichita Public Schools to study the mascot determined: “the term is offensive to Native Americans and the Native American Culture. The term is racially and culturally insensitive,” reported the Wichita Eagle.
“Starting next school year, the district will start removing ‘Redskin’ from athletic and fine arts uniforms, jerseys and facilities, as well as school-related activities and school apparel.”
The Washington DC football franchise has eliminated “Redskins” as its name. The Cleveland baseball team will remove “Indians” after the 2021 season.
Surely pressure will mount on the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City football franchise and others, to do the right thing.
The Atlanta team has steadfastly resisted calls to change its name, saying they view it as a tribute to Native Americans rather than a slur, the AP reported.
Most of the quotes I have seen from Native Americans on the subject, reject that notion.
“People are not mascots. We do not accept this,” said Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, who urged the Shawnee Mission School Board to take immediate action on the offensive names.
“You do not honor us by putting this on your jackets. You do not honor us by putting us on your diplomas. We are not caricatures. We are real people, with cultures, religions and opinions.”