September 29, 2012

Origin of the tomahawk chop

‘Tomahawk chop’ pops up in Mass. Senate race after history in arenas, activists’ crosshairsBack in the mid-1980s, the Seminole football boosters asked a student spirit group, then called the Scalphunters, to create a cheer to compete with the University of Florida’s two-armed “Gator chomp,” said Florida State alum Tom Desjardin.

Desjardin, a Scalphunter, said that, for lack of a better idea, they debuted the chop at a 1984 pep rally he was leading. Florida State boosters say the famous chant was added later, on a suggestion from a student from Natick High School in Massachusetts, where the chant was used to support the school’s Redmen, a nickname since changed to the Red Hawks.

The chop really took off in a game at Auburn in 1985, when the Seminole band rolled out an intimidating drum beat and trumpet music to accompany it, said Desjardin, now a historian for the state of Maine.

Desjardin said the chop’s violent imagery wasn’t lost on the Scalphunters, but it wasn’t what drove its creation. A main consideration was the fact it was a shoulder-up motion that could be seen in a crowd, he said.

Desjardin added there’s a deep respect at Florida State for the Seminole tribe, which the school consults closely on all uses of tribal imagery and which in 2005 granted the school permission to use its name.

“If the tribe had ever said, ‘We don’t like that (the chop), you would have never seen it again,’” Desjardin said.Instead, the chop spread to Atlanta. That city’s Seminole Booster Club claims credit for starting it all when some members used it at a Braves game to catch the attention of outfielder Deion Sanders, an FSU alum who began playing for Atlanta in 1991.

When the Braves made the World Series that year against Minnesota, American Indian groups protested in Minneapolis and Atlanta, saying the cheer perpetuated racist stereotypes of Native Americans as war-obsessed savages. Some called out Braves owner Ted Turner and his wife at the time, Jane Fonda, for doing the chop.

But former President Jimmy Carter defended it, saying it was a way to note that the team was emulating the courage of American Indians.
Comment:  Turner, Fonda, and Carter are as wrong as everyone else about the "honoring" argument.

If the Seminole Tribe protested the tomahawk chop, it probably would face the usual firestorm of protest. The school would try to negotiate a compromise rather than simply ban the practice. See the whole "Fighting Sioux" conflict for a good example of how it would play out.

For more on the subject, see More Racism from the Brown Campaign and Brown Staffers Whoop and Chop.

Below:  The Seminoles' spearchucking mascot Chief Osceola.

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