For most of the last six decades, we've known the Capital University athletic teams as Crusaders. Before that, we were known as the "Fighting Lutherans." A change was made, it seems, to provide a more appropriate nickname for an institution of higher education. For some, the Crusader name brings to mind successful seasons, team accomplishments, and a joyous shared identity. Some recall the dictionary definition of the word, which, depending on the origin, is something like "any vigorous, aggressive movement for the defense or advancement of an idea, cause, etc." or "a person who campaigns vigorously for political, social, or religious change." But the Crusades were a military operation, as evidenced by the present mascot’s military persona, and they included numerous instances of violent attacks against civilians, most notoriously Jewish villagers, but also Muslims and Orthodox Christians. Such a mascot, even in the cartoonish form taken by Cappy, also evokes memories of Christianity's prejudiced and violent treatment of people of color and people of other faiths. This post intends to walk us through some of the history behind the Crusader mascot, in order to explain why we should, as a University, take seriously the calls from students, alumni, faculty, and staff to change our mascot.
Part of my role as University Pastor at Capital University is to support the spiritual life of our entire community. Not just the Lutherans. Not even just the Christians. All people, from Hindus and Agnostics to Jains and Atheists to Sikhs and Buddhists. It also extends to our Jewish, Muslim, and Orthodox community members. These interfaith partners are uniquely important in this discussion because the Crusades furthered antisemitism and Islamophobia across Europe and the Mediterranean. The Crusades dehumanized Muslims and lied about both their rule of the Holy Land and the content of their faith. These Western European Christians Crusaders even sacked Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Christian) Empire, killing innocents indiscriminately and stealing treasures to take back to Europe. In short, the legacy of the Crusader itself is not one of valor. Here, then, are some key conversation points to have an honest conversation about the Crusader nickname:
We should consider this history of the Crusader persona in light of Capital University’s recently approved strategic plan. If we are purposeful people, then the name Crusader must be purposeful. I cannot, in good conscience, identify with the purposes most commonly associated with this historical figure, as illustrated in the information I give here. If we desire to be an open community embracing hope, then that community must be metaphorically and actually open to all and pursue identities that are hopeful for all. The legacy of Crusaders, seeking colonial power over foreign lands, exploiting the people that they encountered, and murdering Jewish and Muslim civilians (as well as even their own Christian allies in Constantinople) is simply not consistent with our strategic plan. As ethical stewards, it is time for us to leave behind a mascot with, at the very minimum, an ethically ambivalent legacy. To support free inquiry for all members of the Capital community, we must release the bonds that restrict or prevent participation within our community. To effectively create an inclusive university for all people of faith, we must not glorify—or even appear to glorify—violence against people of color or people of other faiths, the expressed intention of the original Crusaders.
None of this means I do not support our athletes, coaches, or teams. I love our Capital community and give thanks for the hard work and dedication they put into their classwork, their practices, and their games. Advocating for a new mascot is not advocating against our student athletes. In fact, what I want is a mascot that truly reflects their courage, dedication, and perseverance, a mascot that holds high the ideals we share together as #CapFam.
We should identify as a campus that seeks hospitality for people of all faiths. We should not place the moniker of Crusader upon anyone, especially those members of the Capital community whose religious forebears were killed, murdered, and violated, whose wealth was stolen, and whose homes were ransacked by the Crusader armies of Europe. Nor should we expect that all Christians find the Crusader nickname appropriate, palatable, or honorable.
In sum, to claim the name Crusaders identifies us as exclusive rather than inclusive; as Euro-centered rather than globally committed; as comfortable with a history of violence against the other rather than devoted to peace with all people. We can be #CapFam or we can be Crusaders. We cannot be both, not with the legacy of a Crusader truly in view.
It is time for a new mascot, one that evokes bravery and honor, courage and integrity. We should choose such a mascot. We deserve such a mascot. The Crusader simply is not it.
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Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.