The “Crusader” Mascot

Crusading Mascots on Campuses Across the Country: 

High schools, universities, and even professional sporting teams have made use of crusading imagery by making their mascot a crusader. Most teams that identify with the Crusaders want to associate with the ferocity and chivalry embodied by these medieval Christian fighters. However, in the twenty-first century in particular, teams that had previously used Crusading imagery have been compelled to reexamine their choice of representation. Some institutions have found fault with the memory of the Crusades as  violent, making them poor representatives of peaceful Christian brotherhood. Others have found fault with the memory of the Crusades as an example of Christian intolerance, seeing the Christian crusaders as fanatics who needlessly slaughtered those of other religions.  Below is a comprehensive look at the use of Crusading mascots by American colleges and universities and the reasons that brought about change at these institutions.

crusader schools map

Universities That Have Changed Their Crusading Mascot

Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA): The College changed their mascot from the Crusaders to the Lions in May 2009 because, according to college president Corlis McGee, “In today’s world, the term [Crusader] often carries a negative connotation, and there was a growing awareness among ENC students, faculty and alumni that the Crusader no longer represented the positive message of Christian love we aim to share with the world.” See “Case Studies” section below for more information.

Elon University (Elon, NC): In 2000, the Elon University (at the time still known as Elon College) changed its mascot from the “Fighting Christians” to the “Phoenix” as a way to distance itself from religious symbolism as the school was trying to improve ethnic and religious diversity. This mascot change also coincided with the school’s athletic team’s transitioning into Division I for several teams.  See “Case Studies” section below for more information.

Maranatha Baptist University (Watertown, WI): In 2014, Maranatha changed their mascot from Crusaders to Sabercats.

Meredith College (Raleigh, NC): In 2007, the College changed its mascot from Crusaders to Avenging Angels.

Point Loma Nazarene University (San Diego, CA): In 2014, the University changed from the Crusaders to the Sea Lions.

University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, TX): In 2007, the University changed their mascot from the Crusader to the Cardinal.

Wheaton College (Norton, MA): In 2000, the College changed its mascot from the Crusaders to the Thunder.  See “Case Studies” section below for more information.

Universities that have Kept their Crusading Mascot

College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, MA)

Evangel University (Springfield, MO)

North Greenville University (Tigerville, SC)

Schools Where There is a Discussion in Progress 

Clarke University (Dubuque, IA): In 2007, the Crusader mascot was changed into a lion named “Cutlass T Crusader,” creating distance between the mascot and the historical phenomenon of crusading.This new mascot got rid of all crusading imagery by creating him as a tiger, but there is still controversy in the name and an ongoing debate about it.

Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, ID): The University has declared an intent to change mascots, but have no concrete plan to implement change.

Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA): The University is currently in the middle of a multi-stage move away from a crusading mascot.  Susquehanna already changed from a traditional crusader mascot to a tiger called the “Caped Crusader” as a temporary measure, and are now working to drop the crusading theme entirely, with a squirrel as the current frontrunner for the new mascot.

Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN): The Crusader mascot is currently the topic of debate, with the president, many alumni, and many faculty supporting a name change. However, there is no specific plan for a new mascot that has been proposed so far.

Case Studies:  

Elon University

Pro Change:  Those in favor of changing the mascot from the “Fighting Christians” to the “Phoenix” wanted to change as a way to distance the school from religious symbolism as it was trying to the improve ethnic and religious diversity of its student body. George Keller describes in his book, Transforming A College: The Story of a Little-Known College’s Strategic Climb to National Distinction that the college took steps toward secularizing starting in 1976 under President Fred young when it “changed its charter from being ‘under the general control’ of the United Church of Christ to being ‘affiliated with’ the church” (Keller, 11). With this change, came much secularization including that of the mascot. The issue with the association of Christianity and the college had nothing to do with the violence of the image, but rather that Elon was no longer a place where all students identified as Christians, but rather a place that saw itself as promoting tolerance, including religious tolerance.  Detractors of the “Fighting Christian” mascot also found image associated with it to be distasteful.  In addition, the change in mascot coincided with many athletics teams of Elon rising to Division I of the NCAA, making it an opportune time for the school to revisit its image.

Against Change: While there is not a lot of evidence of distaste for changing the mascot, some feared that the school losing its Christian ties in general would lead to a “possible defection of some of the loyal, older graduates and the snipping of the college’s Christian roots” (Keller, 20). To appease these factions, Young established the Elon Experiences program, which promoted service among other values, and was meant to and made them the modern college’s equivalent of olt-time religious inculcation” (Keller, 21)

Outcome: In 2000, under the leadership of President Leo M. Lambert, Elon University (at the time still known as Elon College) changed its mascot from the “Fighting Christians” to the “Phoenix.” Even faculty who were indifferent to changing the mascot, like president emeritus Earl Danieley, seemed please with the new mascot, which reference a fire that incinerated the school’s campus in 1923.

 

 

Eastern Nazarene College

Pro Change:  Eastern Nazarene College’s primary reason for wanting to change its mascot was the violence that the crusader represented.  College President Collis McGee stated that “the Crusader no longer represented the positive message of Christian love we aim to share with the world.”  ENC Alumnus and former member of the Crusaders basketball team Dr. Mark H. Mann went further, expressing his gladness that the college was “disassociating {itself} from the atrocities of the medieval Crusaders.”  To the people of Eastern Nazarene College, the crusader had clearly become an image of violence and barbarism.

Against Change:  Unlike the situations at some other schools, the Mascot change at Eastern Nazarene College was handled in an orderly fashion with little to no controversy.  The administration had sensed that it was time for a change, and established a committee, which found a solution that took into account the views of students, faculty, and alumni.

Outcome: On May 13, 2009, Eastern Nazarene College announced that it had changed its mascot from the Crusaders to the Lions.  According to feedback, the campus generally felt that the Lion did as good a job as the Crusader at representing the qualities of courage and strength, without the Crusader’s negative implications.

Wheaton College

Pro Change: As an Evangelical institution, Wheaton College was largely motivated to rename its mascot by its pro-peace values.   After a 1998 editorial in the college’s newspaper criticized the mascot’s glorification of a particularly bloody time in Christian history, Wheaton College President Duane Litfin embarked on a two-year study of the history of the Crusades.  “I came to realize that those were not very happy episodes in Christianity. They are not something we want to glorify,” Litfin said.[1]  In a four-page memo of the subject, Litfin argued that he was “hard-pressed to find anything in these disastrous waves of fighting that our Lord might have approved, despite the fact that the conflict was ostensibly carried out in his name.”[2]

Against Change:  Though Litfin’s research into the Crusades drove him to oppose the Crusader mascot, his decision received some pushback. James Powers, a history professor at Holy Cross University (which uses the Crusaders as a mascot) took a more relativist approach to history of the crusades, telling the Los Angeles Times, “Nothing is all good or all bad. Should we condemn Renaissance art as an indirect byproduct of Crusade prosperity?”[3] and pointing out that almost all mascots carry some violent connotations, “Almost any [mascot] you’re likely to pick has injured or hurt someone. Must Detroit drop its Lions mascot because lions are eaters of human beings and other animals?”[4]

Outcome:  In the spring of 2000, Wheaton College announced that it would no longer be using the Crusaders mascot.  The name disappeared from athletic facilities and the campus bookstore halted the sale of Crusaders memorabilia.  The following fall, Wheaton College announced “The Thunder” as its new mascot.[5]  This mascot has stuck, though Wheaton now also uses a mastodon as its unofficial mascot in acknowledgement of a mastodon skeleton found near campus and housed in the school’s science building.[6]

[1] Spencer, LeAnn. “Go Cherubs? Wheaton School Rethinks Mascot.” Chicago Tribune 25 Apr. 2000: n. pag. Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune. Web. 30 May 2016.

[2]  Rivenburg, Roy. “Save the Crusaders? They Haven’t Got a Prayer.” Los Angeles Times 19 July 2000: 2. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Web. 30 May 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5]  “Wheaton College Picks Mascot to Replace `Crusaders'” Beliefnet. Beliefnet, 2 Oct. 200. Web. 30 May 2016.

[6]  “Stertorous “Tor” Thunder.” Wheaton College. Wheaton College, n.d. Web. 30 May 2016.

 

Lessons From Current Mascot Controversies:

Based on the current dispositions of the 14 American schools that have used crusader mascots, as well as in depth looks at Elon University, Eastern Nazarene College, and Wheaton College in particular, it is possible to establish a few facts about the public’s current view of the crusades.

The image of the crusaders is currently a relatively negative one.  79% of schools with crusader mascots have either already changed them, or are currently under significant pressure to do so, with detractors of the image citing a variety of reasons that it should be changed.  One major issue is that the crusader carries an implication of religious intolerance, as they were an aggressively Christianizing force.  Most agree that institutions of higher education should strive to be as tolerant of differing views and religions as possible, putting the crusader mascot at odds with that mission.  Others take issue with the violence of the crusades, characterizing the crusaders as violent barbarians who committed atrocities.  For schools trying to present their Christianity with a message of love and peace, this connotation is unacceptable.

There have been some pro-crusades voices, which have mainly emphasized two points in favor of keeping crusading mascots.  The first, having little to do with the crusades in particular, is simply a concern that changing the school’s mascot undermines the shared identity and connection of university traditions that bind together past and present students.  The second is a description of the positive qualities associated with the crusaders, namely their bravery and strength.  Further evidence that these characteristics are key to modern perception of the crusaders can be found in the mascots that generally replace the crusader.  By far the most common is the lion; 71% of schools that have removed their crusader mascots have switched to a lion or similar big cat.  Given that lions carry associations with courage and strength, they are seen as an acceptable substitute for the crusader.  Notably absent from defenses of crusader mascots has been discussion of the quality of chivalry.  Even the supporters of crusader mascots appear sufficiently cognizant of the whitewashing of medieval life to be hesitant to ascribe classic knightly chivalry to the crusaders.  This definitely represents a change in though from earlier times, when chivalry would have been a great defense of the crusader as a good representative.

On the whole, the mascot controversy paints the picture of the crusader as a courageous warrior who is also violent and religiously intolerant – a net negative to most most people.

Historical Memory and Campus Politics

Looking at the usage of religiously associated mascots brings up a larger question of how the memory of particular historical events in the modern era can lead to controversy over particular images and people that they might insult people today. This controversy strikes everywhere from high schools to national franchises. On college campuses, associating historical events with the facades and fabrics of educational institutions has become particularly hazardous. Disputes have arisen over mascots, building names, and monuments (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/29/education/college-symbol-controversies.html?_r=1) rooted in the history of particular groups of people or events.

Images associated with the Crusades are not the only ones to have come under fire in recent years for the divisive and sometimes offensive memories they evoke. Mascots associated with the history of Native Americans and the Civil War have been particularly contentious images in the past decade at colleges. Schools including Dartmouth College, Stanford University, Syracuse University, and Colgate University have abandoned their Native American mascots in favor of ones not associated with any historical memory. In January of 2016, Amherst College announced a decision to ditch their mascot (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/27/us/amherst-college-drops-lord-jeff-as-mascot.html?version=meter+at+1&module=meter-Links&pgtype=Multimedia&contentId=&mediaId=&referrer=&priority=true&action=click&contentCollection=meter-links-click) known as “Lord Jeff” because the British colonial governor was involved in a plot to bring small-pox infected blankets to Native Americans and is seen as an overall symbol of white subjugation of other races. In a letter (http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2015/10/19/aas-letter-mascot) explaining their issues with “Lord Jeff,” The Association of Amherst Students writes that the “problematic nature of the Lord Jeff comes not from the outcome of his noxious suggestion [of inventing Native Americans with small pox] but from the suggestion itself and the intense, underlying racism it betrays.” Interestingly, the Association is not concerned with actual historical accuracies, but the connotations tied to Lord Jeff’s actions. In their letter, the Association does not propose in their letter for change an idea for a new mascot, but does state the selection must be a democratic process. Traveling down the coast from Amherst to universities in the south, a battle rages on some campuses over the use of Civil War imagery for mascots. At the University of Mississippi (http://www.olemiss.edu), there was a heated debated over the removal of the Confederacy-associated mascot Colonel Reb (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/15/us/15mascot.html). Not only was there pressure to remove the mascot because of the racial tension tied into the association with the Confederacy, but there was even concern on the campus that the mascot was hurting the recruitment of players with its racist associations. [1] In 2010, the school decided to change its mascot the anthropomorphic black bear, an animal associated with President Teddy Roosevelt’s visits to Mississippi [2].

The existence of such prevalent controversy on college campuses comes from varying memories associated with historical events. College campuses are particularly because there are diverse student bodies and faculties, which inevitably leads to diverse memories as well. [2] Most college administrations feel the need to remedy controversy when it is brought up to them by student groups concerned with civil rights or even take proactive measures to prevent such controversies. In the case of school mascots, administration more often than not turn away from finding more acceptable interpretations of history and instead to images that are practically immune from any and all cristicism. [459]

[1] Megan L. Bever, “Fuzzy Memories: College Mascots and the Struggle to Find Appropriate Legacies of the Civil War,” Journal of Sport History 38 (3). University of Illinois Press: 458, accessed May 30, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jsporthistory.38.3.447.

[2] Ibid., 457

[3] John B. Rhode, “The Mascot Name Change Controversy: A Lesson in Hypersensitivity,” Marquette Sports Law Review, Volume 5, Issue I (1994), 142, accessed May 30, 2016. http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/sportslaw/vol5/iss1/6.

 

Saracen Mascots:

While not common in the United States, the practice of using the Saracen as a mascot has been taken up by several British rugby clubs.  Despite the fact that nearly every one exhibits egregious examples of cultural appropriation, none have been the topic of any significant controversy.