Braves to Hammers? Aaron’s death prompts call for name change

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 24, 2021

By Paul Newberry

AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA — As his adopted hometown mourned Hank Aaron’s death, some fans called on the Atlanta Braves to change their name to the Hammers in his honor.

“Hammerin’ Hank” died Friday at age 86, drawing praise from all segments of society — including the current and former presidents — for his Hall of Fame career and providing inspiration to Black Americans by overcoming intense racism in his pursuit of baseball’s home run record.

The governors of both Georgia and Alabama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Aaron — the Hammer was born in the port city of Mobile and called Atlanta home for much of his life.

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United and Georgia Tech’s football team all announced they would retire Aaron’s trademark No. 44 for their 2021 seasons. The number was long ago retired by the Braves.

“May generations of Georgians continue to be inspired by his groundbreaking career and tremendous impact on our state and nation,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey added, “He inspired many young boys and girls to pursue their dreams and pursue excellence in whatever they do.”

The Braves opened up Truist Park to fans for the first time since the 2019 season, allowing them to pay socially distanced tribute to Aaron on Friday and Saturday at his statue located in a monument garden on the main stadium concourse.

Other fans paid tribute at a display honoring his 715th homer, which is in a parking lot for the stadium formerly known as Turner Field. The site was the home of Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, where the Braves played for 31 seasons after moving from Milwaukee in 1966.

The stadium was imploded after Turner Field became the Braves’ new home in 1997, but a small section of fencing, a wall and a sign mark the spot where No. 715 broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record in 1974. Aaron finished his career with 755 homers, a standard that has since been eclipsed by Barry Bonds. The Hammer spent nearly all of his 23-year career with the Braves, whose nickname has drawn some criticism as being offensive to Native Americans.

Social media buzzed with calls to change the moniker to match Aaron’s nickname. There was even a fledgling online petition backing the idea.

“The renaming serves two important purposes: 1) It honors an icon who represented our city with grace and dignity for more than half a century, and 2) 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,” the petition said.

The Braves have steadfastly resisted calls to change their name, saying they view it as a tribute to Native Americans rather than a slur. But the team did take steps during the 2019 playoffs to downplay symbols of its nickname.

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