My undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University, has been in the news lately for its decision to retire the “Crusaders” as the name of its athletic teams, as well as the Crusader as a mascot. I see that there’s also been some effort to document past objections to the name “Crusaders,” with one blog post tracing the controversy as it stood in 2006 back to a forum held in October 2000, but no further.
So this seems like a good time for me to republish an earlier piece of my own—an article in which I’d called out the “Crusaders” name as hostile and embarrassing and appealed for something to be done about it. This originally appeared in the student newspaper, the Torch, on August 28, 1992, and you can read it below. I’ve corrected a few misspellings and other infelicities, but a faithful facsimile is also available here if you feel you need to experience the original, warts and all. The next-oldest evidence I’ve spotted of anyone objecting to the “Crusaders” name is an editorial by Erica Kaufman and Danielle Carrig, “Time for a new mascot,” in the Torch of April 28, 2000—it’s available here—though of course I might well have missed something earlier.
One motive I have for republishing my old article is that it brings up a name I’d like to put forward for consideration again now that there’s imminent need for a replacement to “Crusaders.” Shortly after the United States entered the Second World War, when the university had decided to drop the older name “Uhlans” because of its Teutonic baggage but hadn’t yet settled on an alternative, a writer for the local Vidette-Messenger began referring to the basketball team as the “Dunes Hawks” (for examples, see the issues for January 13, January 15, and January 19, 1942). Apparently that unauthorized journalistic initiative is what finally nudged a faculty committee to choose the name “Crusaders,” as reported in the Torch of January 22, 1942:
Cajoled into unprecedented speedy action when a downtown sports-writer crawled out on his own little limb and dubbed Valpo athletic squads the “Dunes’ Hawks,” campus big-wigs early this week recoiled in academic shock, promptly decided to redub aforesaid athletic aggregations.
Somehow when I wrote about this part of the story back in 1992, I wrongly put the name down not as “Dunes Hawks” or “Dunes’ Hawks,” but as “Dune Hawks.” I only discovered my mistake when I searched on “Dune Hawks” for confirmation just now and couldn’t find anything. But maybe “Dune Hawks” was a happy accident on my part, since out of all the alternatives I’ve seen, I think I like it best—except that I’d rather see it as one word: “Dunehawks.”
If you google “Dunehawk,” you’ll mostly find references to an abandoned 2003 Nissan prototype for the Pathfinder, which is to say that nobody else seems actively to be using it as a name for anything. “Dune hawk,” as two words, turns up in connection with Frank Herbert’s Dune, but only rarely. So the name seems ripe for the picking.
“Dunehawks” would be distinctive but not eccentric. It would link Valpo athletics to the migratory hawks of the Indiana Dunes, a beloved part of the local wildlife scene that anyone in the region can go witness at first hand, helping to cement the bond between community and environment. At the same time, it wouldn’t be unduly specific when it came time to design logos or mascot costumes: red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, broad-winged hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks all qualify as valid dunehawks. If we accept “Dunehawks” as a streamlined variant of “Dunes Hawks” (like “Red Sox” from “Red Stockings”), then it already has some solid history behind it—indeed, it’s what Valpo’s teams might have ended up being called by default all along if faculty hadn’t pulled rank back in 1942. “Dunesmen” had also been one of three choices presented in a poll of 1931, pointing to an even longer-term desire among students for some name invoking the Dunes—one that may have been thwarted back in the day only by a rigged vote (see below). And if the Dunes connection isn’t good enough for you, and you want to bring Lutheran religious identity into it, well, one of Martin Luther’s own friends wrote that he had “a pure, brave face, and the eyes of a hawk.”
It might look strange for a Dunehawk to be pictured holding the Shield of Character in quite the way the Crusader was, since birds of prey don’t have much day-to-day use for shields, and the Shield of Character has become increasingly central to Valparaiso University branding lately. But not to worry! There’s ample precedent in heraldry for birds to hold shields; think eagles, for example.
So there you have my favored replacement name. Go Valpo Dunehawks!
Now here’s my old article from August 1992, with hyperlinks inserted to many of my original sources.
Crusader moniker just one in a history of embarrassing team names
July 15, 1099: a mob of Europeans has just taken the city of Jerusalem. They ride around in the blood of the conquered up to the knees of their horses; their luckier Muslim victims are shot full of arrows, beheaded, or tossed from the city towers, while others will be tortured for days and then burned alive, bringing the total to 70,000. The Jews are rounded up in a synagogue, which is likewise consigned to flames as the Bearers of the Cross weep with joy, thanking God for their victory. The Crusades were the most brutal and embarrassing event in the history of the Christian church, the medieval climax of religious intolerance and genocide. But we at Valparaiso University currently call our athletic teams the “Crusaders.” How did we get stuck with a name so blatantly hostile to Muslims, Jews, and Turks? Well, there is a history to it.
Back in the late 1920s, when Lutheran occupation was a new development, our teams had no official name. Sometimes they were referred to by students as “Yellow Jackets,” and local newspapermen made up colorful monikers like “Flying Dutchmen” and “Hillmen” as they pleased. Otherwise our athletes were the “Brown and Gold” and that was that.
The football season of 1930 was looking bleak. An old Valpo alumnus and local attorney, J. J. McGarvey, having a military background and vocabulary, jokingly described that year’s team as the “College Hill Uhlans.” Chances are that you, dear reader, haven’t got the faintest idea what an Uhlan is, but a student reporter for the local Vidette-Messenger, Mr. E. Zimmerman, began using the word in print, first mockingly, then in headlines. That was right before a winning streak brought Dear Old Valpo to the attention of the Associated Press, and the new name with it.
Uhlans, as described in their heyday at Valpo, “were famous Prussian lancers who distinguished themselves in the Franco-Prussian war. Their dashing uniforms of blue with gold trimmings, silver helmets, magnificent horses and bannered lances were an inspiring sight. With reckless tactics and furious charges they struck terror into the hearts of their opponents.” Uhlans “characterizes strength, nationality, sportsmanship, stature, and victory.” [I think there must have been some editorial glitch with the last sentence.]
Some students objected to the use of this obscure but very Valpo-specific name, so the editor of the Torch ran a poll in their Oct. 23, 1931 issue: “The name Uhlans exemplifies hard fighting, Dunesmen designates locality, and Cyclops gigantic, dynamic size, plus power,” it explained. “Write your suggestions on a slip of paper, signed by you, and drop them in the ‘Nickname contest box’ at the book store. Think what a thrill it would be to you in years to come to see powerful athletic teams of a great Valparaiso winning games under the name you gave them.” But Mr. E. Zimmerman and his cronies managed, as exposed in a 1936 Torch, to stuff the ballot box, and the name “Uhlan” was retained. It became as Valponian as Orville Redenbacher and O. P. Kretzmann. In 1934 the yearbook, up till then bearing the colorless appellation Record, was renamed the Uhlan, which, said its editors, “is derived from an ancient language and signifies merely ‘youth’—not the charging cavalryman of historic fame, though he is the symbol. In youth, as we have attempted to portray in the Uhlan figure, there is aggressiveness, vivacity, courage, and high ideals.” And again, “The Uhlan…a colorful, plumed figure on a fleet horse…a spear with a fluttering pennant…the fearless charge when death was certain…dauntless courage in face of defeat…blood of youth tingling in his veins…this is the Uhlan…this is the symbol of the university.”
Then came 1941. The world scene had changed and was worsening rapidly; no one seemed to remember who had chosen the name Uhlans for our use, but it certainly seemed undesirable all of a sudden. A definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica [sic, should be Encyclopedia Americana] was circulated: “in the War of 1914-1918 the Uhlans of the Prussian service covered themselves with ignominy by their wanton acts of cruelty, plunder and rapine in the march through Belgium and northern France.” January 16, 1941, saw speeches given in the Chapel for and against forgetting the old name as quickly as possible.
For: “[People] see only that a University whose religion was first proclaimed in Germany has chosen the name of a German regiment for its yearbook. They see the Nazis in control of Germany. Adding all these factors up, they get only one answer: The University is pro-Nazi.”
Against: “If we change the name under the present circumstances, we will be yielding to every base emotion that college people should despise—unjustified suspicion, intolerance, bigotry. And this should also be borne in mind: the same people who might accuse us of being pro-German if we keep the name will accuse us of trying to cover up our pro-Germanism if we change the name. It isn’t so much our acts as their pre-conceived ideas that will determine their feelings toward us.”
The next day was an unofficial balloting, the results of which have been lost but are easy to imagine. Technically, it was for the renaming of the yearbook, which by the beginning of February had become the Beacon, as it is today. This won out over Valyte, Vox Val, the Brown and Gold, and View, because a “beacon, as a dispenser of light, is most symbolic of Valparaiso’s great purpose for existing—to give light to a darkened world.” It was expected that a name for the athletic teams would soon follow. The “dispenser of light” motif encouraged suggestions like “Volts,” “Gloworms,” and “Fireflies.” But ten months after the blackballing of “Uhlans” no action had been taken. Driven to desperation, a Vidette-Messenger sports columnist started calling Valpo’s hoopsters the “Dune Hawks” [sic, should be “Dunes Hawks”]. The administration didn’t think too highly of this, and its Committee on Athletics convened to discuss various possibilities, such as “Valparazors,” “Bruins,” and “Saxons.” It was this group of five professors (not a student vote) that finally decided on “Crusaders.” The President was pleased; the new name “connotes the courage and devotion to ideals for which the University stands. In addition it is a constant reminder to the public that Valparaiso University is proud of its religious background.”
Wrote Gus Bernthal soon after in the Torch, “One thing is certain, fellow Crusaders, and that is that all our rivals from now on shall be listed in our record book as Saracens,…and we’re out to make historians record the most successful crusades on record.”
What, 80,000 Muslims this time? Iraqis? Libyans? Or shall we help out with the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina? If “Uhlans” had negative connotations in the Forties, “Crusaders” seems a lot clumsier in the Nineties. Something should be done.
PS. A little context for that last paragraph. I wrote this article shortly after returning from a year of study abroad in Germany (1991-92) and had spent some of that time visiting different parts of the former Yugoslavia and talking with people about their perceptions of the ongoing conflict there—in fact, I had another article about those experiences in the very next issue of the Torch. So I guess I might have had a different perspective on what was happening in Bosnia than my fellow students did, and it may have made me less willing than they were to accept “crusading” as a harmless metaphor.