clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Valparaiso’s decision to drop Crusaders nickname shows power of words

Offensive names must go, yes. But there must be a stopping point, a point where we consider that all humans are flawed and that judging yesterday’s behavior by today’s ethics can lead to censorship and, indeed, chaos.

Valparaiso’s Sheldon Edwards drives around Drake’s Garrett Sturtz during a game this month in Valparaiso, Ind. Valpo announced it will dump its Crusaders nickname.
Valparaiso’s Sheldon Edwards drives around Drake’s Garrett Sturtz during a game this month in Valparaiso, Ind. Valpo announced it will dump its Crusaders nickname.
Robert Franklin/AP

Valparaiso University is changing its nickname from Crusaders to, well, something.

The new name is undetermined. But the school — located in the Indiana town of the same name, 55 miles southeast of Chicago — decided a few days ago that ‘‘Crusaders’’ is a term too loaded with negative vibes to keep.

Valpo teams have been known as the Crusaders for the last 79 years. There periodically were movements to change the name, but they fizzled out.

This one succeeded, in part because the word has been co-opted by right-wing groups. And the real Crusaders were rough enough.

According to history, they were European Christian warriors who slaughtered millions of Muslims, Jews and assorted other non-Christians in various medieval campaigns to retake the Holy Lands, which, in turn, inspired jihads and payback slaughtering of Christians by Turks, Mamluks and Tatars, etc.

Such is history.

And it’s understandable some students, faculty and alums of a midsized Midwestern university might not like even an innocent connection to all that religious hegemony and gore.

Valpo will come up with something new as a moniker, just as all the universities that dumped their ‘‘Indians’’ nicknames did in recent years. Just as the Washington Football Team will do soon. And the Cleveland Indians.

Indeed, we are seeing a moment of word cleansing in America. Statue cleansing, too. And, yes, mascot cleansing.

Names are words. And words are important. Don’t ever let somebody tell you they’re not.

Words are made up of letters, which are symbols, and symbols mean everything at a certain critical level of human existence and interaction.

Confused?

Take six harmless lines. Cross two of them. Take the other four and append them at right angles to the tips of the cross.

What do you have?

That’s right, a swastika.

Does that get anybody’s attention?

Yet as more words and symbols become authentically offensive to oppressed or worried groups, we honestly can wonder where it ends.

Rethinking is rampant. A high school in northern Wisconsin, for instance, just dropped its longtime nickname, Midgets, for North Stars. Butler University’s teams were called the Christians many years ago. Now they’re the Bulldogs.

The Nevada Wolf Pack women’s teams once were known as the ‘‘Sage Hens.’’ Chuckle, folks. To the dustpan.

As harmless as the nickname choice once might have been for Valparaiso, the school has to remember it has Muslim and Jewish students.

Bulls play-by-play announcer Adam Amin is a Valpo grad who learned his broadcasting chops there. He also is a Muslim. When asked his thoughts by a local paper about the Crusaders nickname he replied: ‘‘What I think now . . . is it all depends on how important symbolism is to you.’’

That nails it.

Consider that Valparaiso’s teams were known as the Uhlans before the Crusaders. What, pray tell, is a Uhlan?

A Uhlan was a Polish or Austro-Hungarian cavalry member outfitted with a lance, saber or pistol. A nasty dude.

So scratch Uhlans.

Then we have San Francisco. If there is a city where politically correct liberalism has its strongest foothold, where the desire to undo offensive history is most overt, it must be San Francisco.

That town has said it’s getting rid of the names — not nicknames — of 44 public schools, including Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and even Revere. Naturalist John Muir is going, too. So is Francis Scott Key, who composed our national anthem.

Wildest of all might be the dumping of local icon, former San Francisco mayor, feminist pioneer and current Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, age 87, whose name literally is chiseled in stone at the elementary school named after her.

All these people, including the man considered the founder of our country and the president who freed the slaves, did something that was felt to be deeply offensive by some group in the Bay Area.

Feinstein? She hugged Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham after a debate over a Supreme Court nominee. A Republican!

Offensive names must go, yes. But there must be a stopping point, a point where we consider that all humans are flawed and that judging yesterday’s behavior by today’s ethics can lead to censorship and, indeed, chaos.

Crusaders? Adios!

But Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, and Jefferson City, Missouri? What if animal rightists come after the Bruins, Wildcats and Panthers?

Maybe we don’t need mascot names at all.

Valparaiso, you’ve got us thinking.