From, Sept. 22, 2004:

Tongue Tied on reports -- presumably with disapproval, as an example of politically correct excess -- that

A Pennsylvania man is on a quest to rid a local Catholic high school of the "crusader" nickname because he says it represents an evil, violent chapter in the history of the Christian church, reports the Patriot News.

Carl Silverman is mounting a one-man campaign to force Bishop McDevitt High School to change its mascot. He also wants the school to change wording on its Web site that refers to the school seal as "the shield of a Crusader, which serves to protect us from the secularism of the world."

Silverman thinks the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should ban the nickname altogether.

Crusaders, he said, refers to medieval military expeditions by Christians who "killed thousands and thousands of people with the encouragement of the Catholic Church."

"The pope apologized for the Crusades, yet these schools continue to use that term," he said. "It is time they realize what they represent."

Now I certainly think that the government shouldnít be banning private entities from using certain team names. There has unfortunately been some talk of that (see the examples in this article of mine, and the text near footnote reference 14 on this page): The remarkably broad and vague "hostile environment harassment" doctrine threatens restricting a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, and it needs to be resisted. I also don't think the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association should be banning names. These matters should be up to public opinion, and up to each school, though if the PIAA is a nongovernmental entity it does have the legal right to impose such a ban.

But it seems to me that Catholic schools should hold themselves to a higher standard. Mascots, when they arenít tied to the geography of the teamís current or past home (e.g., the New York Yankees or the former Minneapolis Lakers) or the teamís history or dress (e.g., the Chicago White Sox), are generally symbols representing something that fans and players should admire: the courage of a Lion or a Patriot, for example. At best, the Crusades were a brutal event in a brutal age, not much different from the other blood-drenched attempts at conquest (whether by Christians of Muslims or vice versa), but certainly nothing to praise. Crusaders didnít use their "shield[s]" against "secularism" -- they were intended to use their swords to fight a holy war against a rival religion.

The Crusaders, even those who were personally well-intentioned, did not represent the Christian values that the Church today rightly cherishes. Why should the Church use them as a symbol that deserves admiration? Itís true that this is just a battle about symbols, but symbols are important, as religions have long recognized. A Church that wants to teach its children the right values (as the Catholic Church does) should use symbols that fit those values, not those that undermine them.

Iím not wild about professional sports teams naming themselves after brutes, either: Pirates, Raiders, Buccanneers, even Vikings, who werenít just Norsemen but those specific Norsemen who were chiefly famous for looting and pillage. I donít oppose American Indian team names -- and neither do most American Indians, according to the recent Sports Illustrated survey described here, which I looked at closely and which seems to me to be quite scientifically valid -- precisely because calling a team Indians or Seminoles is a sign of respect and praise, not condemnation. (Thereíll inevitably be some cartoonishness to the depiction of the mascot, but thatís the nature of mascots, whether Indians or Padres. And while Iím more bothered by Redskins, that term isnít a pejorative in the particular context of a sports team name, which may be why most American Indians apparently donít mind that team name, either.) But calling a team Pirates strikes me as no better than calling it the Murderers, Rapists, or Thieves, which pirates generally were.

Still, I can see why professional teams donít change their mascots, since such a change may cost them millions of dollars in revenue (not a noble reason, but an understandable one). Whatís more, pro teams arenít institutions for moral education. But Catholic schools are such institutions, and they should take that special role seriously.

These calls for changing symbols and names have in recent years come mostly from the multiculturalist Left, and have been rejected, often rightly, as excesses of political correctness. (See here for an example.) But sometimes these arguments, wherever they come from, are correct -- even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Itís not a loony Left-wing notion that schools should honor the honorable, not the brutal. If anything, itís something of a conservative notion, but it ought to appeal, if presented the right way, to people all over the political spectrum.

Likewise, there should be nothing particularly radical, liberal, or multiculturalist in arguing that our holidays should focus on the morally praiseworthy (such as President Washington, the Declaration of Independence, veterans, or Martin Luther King, Jr.) and not on those who were at best morally ambiguous. Christopher Columbus was certainly an important historical figure, and was doubtless brave and visionary; but the discovery and conquest of America is at best a morally neutral event -- being a brutal and deadly part of a brutal and deadly age.

Our civic institutions should reserve their high honors, and a separate holiday is one of the highest of honors, for those who are morally deserving. And this shouldnít be simply thought of as a way of avoiding offense to this ethnic group or that -- though incidentally Columbus Day got big in large part due to ethnic identity politics, because it was embraced by the Italian-American community -- but as a way to better morally educate our children, whatever their ethnicity.