Pushed not by the NCAA, but by its own conscience and a thoughtful appraisal of its current appropriateness, Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa is considering changing its mascot.
The Crusaders, as the NNU athletic teams have been known since at least the 1940s, could meet their end as soon as March, when the school's Board of Trustees meet. Mascot change, tabled by the board in the fall, is again on the agenda.
Given the university's global missionary and outreach programs, the board should do away with the Crusaders.
The Crusades, European Christian military expeditions in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries to recover the Holy Land from Muslims, carry — fairly or unfairly — a negative connotation throughout much of the world. Though many argue that the aim and ambitions of the crusaders were noble, no one denies that atrocities took place during the effort.
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In the very places where the Church of the Nazarene is reaching out through its colleges and universities, the term conjures up extremely negative images.
Church-affiliated schools exist throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, places where crusaders actually existed — and not as a creation of Hollywood. In England, the school's "Crusader Choir" was asked to not use its name. Instead, the choir was referred to as the NNU choir in programs.
Student body president Nicole Bodenstab favors changing the mascot. She served on the Task Force on the Crusader, which recommended 7-1 that the board make a name change. Bodenstab said conversations with friends who had studied abroad and encountered backlash because of the Crusader nickname influenced her opinion.
"Other students were curious, 'Why would you have a Crusader mascot?' To them, it brought up killing and raping and pillaging. Why would you choose to have that represent you? A lot of people think the change is being made for political correctness and I can understand why they think that," Bodenstab said.
"But if that's the first impression of people when they hear the Crusader mascot , then maybe we're sending the wrong message."
The task force concluded in its report that because of the popular understanding of the name "Crusader," NNU was not serving its stated mission, particularly in its goals of "Christlike Character" and "Social Responsiveness."
Others strongly disagree, claiming that crusading in the name of their faith is directly linked to their mission.
"I feel that the Crusaders is part of what we at NNU are, not in the sense of the Crusades, but that we can be crusaders for Christ," student body vice president Shannon Bell said. "If we're going to take away the Crusaders, some people equate it to saying 'Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas.' You can't make everyone happy, and we're taking a stand in our Christian faith."
Opinion on campus is divided, with the political science and religion departments most strongly favoring a change. The athletic department and alumni groups, including the Crusader Athletic Association, which provides money for scholarships, are the most heavily anti-change.
"The Crusaders were being used for the positive things that they did," said athletic director Rich Sanders, also a member of the task force.
Sanders, who estimated that it would cost around $50,000 for his department to comply with a change, said he has heard from very vocal and adamant fans and alumni opposed to any change.
"You can make arguments in either direction. But right now, I'd be comfortable with just leaving it the same," Sanders said.
Of the eight Church of the Nazarene colleges and universities in the United States that sponsor intercollegiate athletics, just two — NNU and Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts — are called the Crusaders. Other nicknames include the Pioneers, Cougars, Tigers, Trojans and Crimson Storm.
Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego changed its name several years ago from the Crusaders to the Sea Lions — not the walrus-type sea creature, but a lion emerging from the ocean. There was heavy resistance among alumni, and athletic director Carroll Land said some supporters have yet to return.
Terry Michaelson, the president of the CAA, said though some members of his organization have threatened to withhold financial support in the event of a name change, the majority of donors are committed to the cause and not the name or label.
Michaelson's group voted overwhelmingly — there was one dissenter among a board of 20 or so — to oppose a name change. Michaelson said his group based its decision on several factors, including the pride and tradition associated with the Crusader nickname.
Such claims, while extremely pertinent in the short term, don't hold up over the course of time. Just like the argument against the NCAA's somewhat Big Brother-like ban on offensive Native American mascots and logos do not hold water.
Does anyone remember what Stanford's athletic teams were called before they became the Cardinal? (Extra credit if you knew they were the Indians from 1930 through 1972.)
The point is, memories fade. Time passes. Traditions are reborn and remade. It's the school, not the mascot that people should — and do — give allegiance to.
NNU will continue to compete in intercollegiate athletics, continue to win and lose and continue to create lifelong memories on its fields and courts, no matter what mascot adorns the walls or the media guide.
And, in the interest of keeping the school's very cool Crusader logo and some of its heritage, may I suggest Cavaliers or Knights as a permanent replacement.