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Going to pick a name? First do some research

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First the Washington “Redskins” . . . and now the Capital “Crusaders.”

Yep, my very own alma mater, Capital University, recently decided to scrap “Crusaders” and adopt another name for its teams.  Capital U is located in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Bexley – way, way on the other side of town from that mega-institution “The” OSU and about 1% the enrollment. 

Well, Capital recently determined that “Crusaders” doesn’t do a great deal to enhance its stock as a Lutheran-affiliated example of higher education. And just as the Washington NFL team has yet to tell us what its new name will be, Capital has not yet unveiled what its sports teams will be called.

As fate – and aligning of the stars would have it – I attended Capital and began my college “career” there the very same year that the school decided to change its name and become the “Crusaders.”

The previous name this new name was substituting for? — you may ask.  Are you ready for this – sitting down, seatbelt real tight?  

“The Fighting Lutherans.” Yes, The Fighting Lutherans. (And as my favorite author Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up.)

At some point, of course, it had dawned on school officials that “Fighting Lutherans” didn’t really strike terror into the hearts of opposing teams.  (Wisely, the Methodist and Presbyterian schools had avoided anything similar – like “Marauding Methodists” maybe, or “Pretty Angry Presbyterians” perhaps — and I don’t even want to think about what the Catholic schools might have done with the idea.)

So Capital decided to pick a name with some real bellicosity:  “Crusaders.”

As another fateful twist, I – as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman — was actually present for the auspicious introduction of this new appellation, dramatically unveiled at the first home football game of the season. 

There we were, sitting in the stands, minutes before toe striking leather for this Division III clash, when suddenly a horse and rider, all decked out in the proper crusader costuming and fake armor, appeared under the goal post at one end of the field. 

Offering further verisimilitude, our medieval hero was wielding a lance. Its specific purpose:  to pierce through a mannequin figure set up in the middle of the gridiron, its shoddy uniform and tattered helmet meant to represent the day’s poor weak opposition, static and defenseless against this religious warrior.

However, the intended result, the steed galloping fiercely forward to skewer our inept enemy, didn’t happen. Wasn’t going to happen. 

The horse, like Melville’s reluctant scrivener, “preferred not to”; it decided it wanted nothing to do with whatever that was in the middle of the field, wasn’t going to be responsible for even touching the opposition, and refused to lift even one hoof toward this avatar of the despised enemy.

The hoots of laughter from the stands – and of course the opposing bench — only increased as the horse danced back and forth, mostly back, no matter the crusader’s efforts at encouragement. So it finely had to be walked off the field of battle, not just defeated but absolutely unwilling to engage.

Despite this rather deflating introduction, “Crusaders” continued as Capital’s team name – I won’t tell you for how many years, not wanting to suggest my “vintage” – and only now being reconsidered by the university’s administration.

The Crusades, of course, was not a bright spot for Christianity. Infected by religious frenzy and various promises — from absolution of sins to undying fame and whatever came in between — the entitled warriors of the Middle Ages had obviously decided, in the way of most mammals, to mark and claim their territory. And they would do so via “holy war,” meaning sanctioned violence against various members of their own species, a common default response to supposed insult frequently utilized by homo sapiens. 

The resulting mayhem of the multiple crusades, undertaken over about 180 years, was rather indiscriminate. The very first, the People’s Crusade, spent a good bit of time murdering those in Jewish communities it passed through, never getting to the “Holy Land.” Most of its members were wiped out before it could proceed.

The next batch, those of the First Crusade, went on to invade Byzantine territories. The accomplishments of these soldiers of God included the besieging and capture of the towns of Antioch and Jerusalem and then the massacre of their inhabitants, whatever their religion. Overall, there were five crusades, all involving miscellaneous destruction of property and lives, backed by religious writings and religious authorities.

So, now, to my point:  What about all the other re-namings that we’re getting these days, of so many previously certified “heroes,” but now found to have serious, often deep flaws? And no, I won’t get into any of the current disputes — too many, too convoluted. But I foresee one clear benefit:  a veritable bonanza for historians and anyone interested in history.

We are currently on the first wave of a whole tsunami of articles and books, TV shows and movies, that will provide new – meaning forgotten, unnoticed, overlooked – information about our mythologized heroes, revealing their intrinsic human-ness, good or ill . . . or whatever. 

This is going to make for good “conversation” and lots of ugly arguments. Both are inevitable, but they ought to result in a much better understanding concerning this country’s history:  its flaws, its triumphs, its weaknesses, its strengths, and hopefully help to chart a better informed and more honest path forward for America.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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