Valparaiso University, known for one of the biggest surprises in the history of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament through a medium-sized sports program, announced Thursday that it was dropping the Crusader as a mascot for his association with hate groups and violence.
In a video posted on Facebook by the private university in Indiana affiliated with the Lutheran Church, the interim president of the university and the president of the student body said that the crusader mascot has developed a negative connotation and no longer reflects the values of the institution.
The university, whose name is often abbreviated to Valpo, adopted the Crusader as its mascot in 1942, a nod to the Christian conquests of the Holy Land from the 11th to the 13th centuries, when European invaders faced Muslims. The mascot costume includes armor, a helmet and a shield.
A new mascot has yet to be announced by the university. This is the latest notable entry on a list of professional sports franchises and college sports programs – led by the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball and the Washington NFL soccer team – who have given up their team names amid a statewide reckoning of such symbols .
Colette Irwin-Knott, the university’s interim president, said in the video that the crusader mascot has been under scrutiny over the past few decades “because it can be linked to aggressive religious repression and violence.”
“Unfortunately, the crusader and its symbols in connection with the crusades were accepted and shown by hate groups,” said Ms. Irwin-Knott. “In fact, one of the KKK’s newspapers is called The Crusader, and we don’t want to associate that with Valparaiso University in any way.”
During the deadly siege of the US Capitol last month, white supremacists brought their variant of the Crusader Cross, which has become popular among the racist and anti-Semitic fringes. It was not immediately clear whether this element of the attack had contributed to the university’s decision to withdraw the crusader as a mascot.
Ms. Irwin-Knott said a task force of university advocates convened in the fall semester, along with the faculty senate and student senate, recommended the change.
Kaitlyn Steinhiser, the president of the student body, said in the video that many students were eager to see the retired crusader.
“Mascots should help us to show our school spirit and to represent Valpo values instead of dividing and symbolizing negativity,” said Ms. Steinhiser. “Students on campus are increasingly concerned about how the current crusader mascot represents us and how it can influence the views of potential students about our university.”
Valparaiso isn’t the first university to deal with a crusader mascot.
In 2000, Wheaton College in Illinois dropped the Crusader as a mascot. But the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, after a 2018 review, decided to stick to the Crusaders name. At the time, the Holy Cross president said the college’s definition of crusader was based on “a contemporary understanding of the term that suggests a great effort to support, correct, or make a difference”.
Valparaiso’s most triumphant athletic moment came in the opening round of the 1998 NCAA men’s basketball tournament when the Crusaders, a No. 13 Mississippi seed, a No. 4 seed, stunned a 3-pointer from Bryce Drew on the last buzzer. It became known as the shot.