In March, the New York Mets approached a local nonprofit group about organizing a Native American Heritage Night that would raise money for the group and promote American Indian culture. The nonprofit, American Indian Community House, bought a block of tickets to sell to members and other Native American groups. The Mets designed t-shirts that featured their logo adorned with feathers to promote the event. Organizers planned festivities, including traditional dances and singing outside the ballpark before the game began.
This week, AICH aborted the plan because the Mets had “thwarted months of progress” and planning over fears that the event may put their opponent that night, the Atlanta Braves, in an awkward position, the New York Times reported Wednesday:
The Mets, Osborn said, suddenly seemed “only to be interested in holding a Native American Heritage Day without the culture.”
Last Wednesday, a member of the Mets’ group sales department e-mailed the A.I.C.H. in response to a series of questions from the group, which sought an explanation.
“It was brought to my attention that we need to be sensitive to the Braves being a partner MLB team and can’t put them in a situation for a potentially negative environment to be brought upon them,” the Mets official wrote. “I know this is not the plan, but sometimes people come to events under different agendas than expected. I’m not referring to [A.I.C.H.] or any of the organizations involved, but more about unknown groups that may want to change the perception of the event.”
The Braves are one of several professional sports franchises that use Native American imagery, and while neither their name nor their logo are as offensive as others, they’ve faced their own share of controversy. They originally released a spring training practice cap this spring that featured a “Screaming Savage” logo the franchise long ago abandoned, and for the last two decades, Braves fans have made the Tomahawk Chop cheer a staple at both home and away games.
But this night wasn’t about the Atlanta Braves. It was about actually honoring Native Americans, their heritage, and their culture, something the sports world often professes to do through logos and imagery but rarely ever goes out of its way to actually accomplish. It is, I suppose, understandable that the Mets wanted the night to be about that honor and not about political statements. But if anyone felt awkward about the juxtaposition of an actual honor and logos and cheers that purport to honor, it should be the Braves and Major League Baseball, not the Mets and most certainly not Native Americans. The Mets had a chance to get one right in a sports world that rarely does. Instead, they failed because they worried that the mere presence of a group of people so few in sports care about offending might make the offenders feel a little shame.