Religious symbolism in U.S. sports team names and mascots

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Many American sports team names and mascots are based upon or use religious symbolism. The majority are scholastic teams at institutions founded by various denominations of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant. Saints is the most popular of these names not only at religious schools but public schools. However, the latter are often indirect, the schools being located in places named for saints. The only team name that has become controversial is Crusaders, many having changed in recent years. The term, once associated with protectors of the faith is now also associated with oppression. Many Christian schools use "Knights" as their team names with imagery similar to crusaders, but it is difficult to establish religious symbolism in these cases. There are also a number of teams whose name includes demons or devils, which are mythological creatures from many cultures. However, the devil imagery in sports used by professional sports teams as well as public and non-sectarian schools are an example of the Devil in the arts and popular culture more than religion. There are also a few team identities based upon Norse mythology in popular culture.

Sports mascots and social identity[edit]

Team names and their associated sports mascots are examples of totems in the social sciences; symbols that serve both social and psychological functions with many implicit meanings.[1][2] The social function is to connect individuals into a community; the psychological function is to symbolize desired qualities with which fans can identify. Mascots are also stereotypes, social constructs which are not always inappropriate when they provide valid, if simplified, perceptions of group differences.[3] Participation in sports either as a player or a fan is a significant determinant of social status for college students, in particular for men.[4] The most popular category of sports mascots are animals, with Eagles (symbolic of America) at the top of the list followed by Tigers, Bulldogs and Panthers (symbolic of aggression). Of religious meanings, only Saints is in the top 100 in popularity with Catholic, Protestant, and public schools represented.[5] However, many Saints teams currently have a St. Bernard dog as their mascot, often portrayed by a costumed performer.

Sectarian schools[edit]

Catholic colleges and universities[edit]

Saints (Catholic)[edit]

Catholic K-12 schools[edit]

Crusaders (Catholic)[edit]


Saints (Catholic K-12)[edit]

Protestant colleges and universities[edit]

Name changes[edit]

Protestant K-12 schools[edit]

Quakers (Protestant)[edit]

Saints (Protestant)[edit]

Other religions[edit]

Private non-sectarian schools[edit]

Public schools[edit]

Colleges and universities[edit]

Secondary schools[edit]







Schools where the boy's teams are Vikings and the girl's teams are Valkyries, mythical figures in Norse mythology

Professional sports teams and franchises[edit]

Crusader mascot controversy[edit]

Many Catholic, and some Protestant schools adopted the Crusader for their teams. The University of the Incarnate Word decided in 2004 that its Crusader mascot was inappropriate for its multicultural mission.[23] Corlis McGee, president of Eastern Nazarene College, said, "There's a growing awareness that the connotation of the word has changed, and the Crusader no longer represents the positive message of Christian love we want to share with the world."

Other universities have decided to keep the mascot as a way to honor their histories and constantly remind students to "communicate our desire to bring the good news and cross into every situation we encountered."[24] The remaining college-level Crusaders are Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, North Carolina), Christendom College (Front Royal, Virginia), College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachusetts),[25][26] Madonna University (Livonia, Michigan), and North Greenville University (Tigerville, South Carolina) who changed their mascot from the Mounties to the Crusaders in 2017.[27][28]

Prior Crusaders name changes
School Name City State New Mascot Year Changed Notes
Alvernia University Reading Pennsylvania Golden Wolves 2017 Sr. Madonna Marie Harvath, a member of the Bernardine Sisters stated; "The idea of changing the name has been brewing for quite some time because there was a lot of prejudice and persecution associated with the Crusades, and that’s not what Alvernia stands for."[29]
Bushnell University Eugene Oregon Beacons 2020 The change coincided with Northwest Christian University becoming Bushnell.[30]
Capital University Bexley Ohio Comets 2021 Although the change was based upon recognition that the name had become outdated and divisive, there was pushback from alumni.[31]
Clarke University Dubuque Iowa The Pride 2017 [32]
Eastern Nazarene College Quincy Massachusetts Lions 2009 The college president stated that the connotations of crusader have changed over the years to become associated with atrocities.[33]
Evangel University Springfield Missouri Valor 2021 The university president stated; "Today, we recognize that the Crusader often inhibits the ability of students and alumni to proudly represent the university in their areas of global work and ministry."[34]
Northwest Nazarene University Nampa Idaho Nighthawks 2017 [35]
Point Loma Nazarene University Point Loma, San Diego California Sea Lions 2002 [36]
Susquehanna University Selinsgrove Pennsylvania River Hawks 2015 [37]
University of the Incarnate Word San Antonio Texas Cardinals 2004
Valparaiso University Valparaiso Indiana Beacons 2021 [38]
Wheaton College Wheaton Illinois The Thunder 2000 Billy Graham, who called his annual evangelistic campaigns "Crusades", was the most notable alumnus of the school.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Delaney, Tim; Madigan, Tim (February 11, 2009). The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction. McFarland (published 2009). p. 211. ISBN 9780786453153. Retrieved October 28, 2014. The manner in which fans defend their right to hold on to and embrace their cherished symbols of the team reflects a type of totemism. [...] Team logos and mascots take on this totem quality for devout fans. It seems odd that people in the 21st century embrace totems, or symbols, with the same level of enthusiasm as primitive, pagan worshippers. However, sports often bring out the primitive inner being of people - including a passionate devotion to a belief or symbol.
  2. ^ Hirshon, Nicholas (2020). "Social Identity Theory in Sports Fandom Research". In Dunn, Robert Andrew (ed.). Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Media Fandom. Advances in Religious and Cultural Studies. doi:10.4018/978-1-7998-3323-9. ISBN 9781799833239. S2CID 241619027. This chapter explores how media-attentive sports fans internalize victory and externalize defeat by charting the simultaneous developments in the 1970s of social identity theory, advanced by European social psychologists...which are rooted in a landmark study on college students wearing school-identifying apparel after the university football team won. The chapter also examines how social identity has served and can continue to be utilized as the theoretical backbone for research on mass-mediated sports fandom.
  3. ^ Lee, Yueh-Ting; McCauley, Clark; Jussim, Lee (2013). "Stereotypes as Valid Categories of Knowledge and Human Perceptions of Group Differences". Social and Personality Psychology Compass. 7 (7): 470–486. doi:10.1111/spc3.12039. ISSN 1751-9004. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  4. ^ End, Christian M.; Kretschmar, Jeff M.; Dietz-Uhler, Beth (2004). "College Students' Perceptions of Sports Fandom as a Social Status Determinant". International Sports Journal. 8 (1): 114–123. ISSN 1094-0480. ProQuest 219889488. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  5. ^ "Most popular team names (active only)". MascotDB. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  6. ^ "How did DePaul get a demon as a mascot?". DePaul University Libraries. July 25, 2008. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  7. ^ "Home of the Monks". Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  8. ^ "OLLU Saints Gear". Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  9. ^ "Why Battling Bishops?". Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  10. ^ Mees, Andrew (August 8, 2014). "College unveils new athletics logo". Bloomfield College. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  11. ^ Redden, Elizabeth (March 31, 2021). "Evangel Drops Crusader Mascot". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved April 12, 2021.
  12. ^ "Lincoln Christian University introduces new athletic mascot -- the Red Lions". Lincoln Daily News. October 1, 2009. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  13. ^ Kravitz, Mark R; Mutter, Carol A (1974). "Desegregation of Private Schools: Section 1981 as an Alternative to State Action". Georgetown Law Journal. 62: 1365, note 15. ISSN 0016-8092. Retrieved May 1, 2018. The term 'segregation academy' in the South has come to mean an institution which is one of 'a system of private schools operated on a racially segregated basis as an alternative available to white students seeking to avoid desegregated public schools.' Coffey v. State Educ. Fin. Comm'n, 296 F. Supp. 1389, 1392 (S.D. Miss. 1969).
    "The quality of instruction, teachers, and physical plant varies widely among such schools. Some private white schools are well-equipped and boast an excellent staff. For example, the Briarcrest Baptist School System, Inc., in Memphis, Tennessee, offers all the standard academic subjects in addition to religious training. All of Briarcrest's staff are certified by the state, and 20 hold master's degrees. Wall Street Journal, supra note 14, at 1, col. 4. However, many southern private schools are woefully inadequate.
  14. ^ "The Story of the Blue Devil". Go Duke. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  15. ^ "Wellington High School". Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Wayne Schools". Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  18. ^ "Wynot Public Schools". Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  19. ^ "Franklin High School's new mascot will be Lightning after Board approves selection". PPS. June 12, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  20. ^ Sodergren, Andrew (December 3, 2019). "Fort Myers Miracle announce name change to Mighty Mussels". The News-Press. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  21. ^ Shellnutt, Kate (February 4, 2010). "Rooting for religion: The Saints and other teams with spiritual mascots - Believe It or Not". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  22. ^ "The Official Site of Minor League Baseball | Homepage". Minor League Baseball. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  23. ^ "University of the Incarnate Word". OSAU. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  24. ^ Eskridge, Larry (June 12, 2000). "Higher Education: Eagles, Crusaders, and Trolls—Oh My!". Christianity Today. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  25. ^ "The Official Site of the Holy Cross Crusaders". Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  26. ^ "Crusader Moniker and Mascot". College of the Holy Cross.
  27. ^ Fitzpatrick, Frank (September 28, 2017). "A new college crusade aims at controversial mascots". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  28. ^ "Home | Official Athletic Site of the North Greenville University Crusaders". February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  29. ^ "The Making of a Mascot". Alvernia University. January 1, 2018. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  30. ^ Herreraom, Hayden (September 16, 2020). "Still the Beacons: Bushnell athletics gets used to not saying 'NCU'". KVAL. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  31. ^ Hendrix, Sheridan (September 30, 2021). "Goodbye crusaders, hello comets! Capital University announces new mascot". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  32. ^ "Clarke Crusaders to become Clarke Pride". Clarke Pride. February 2, 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  33. ^ "Eastern Nazarene drops Crusader mascot". Patriot Ledger. May 14, 2009. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  34. ^ "Crusaders No More: What Arab Christians and Muslims Think of Mascot Changes". Christianity Today. September 9, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  35. ^ "NNU is excited to announce new university mascot". Northwest Nazarene University. October 16, 2017. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  36. ^ "Crusader Mascot Retired for New Look". News Wise. July 2, 2003. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  37. ^ Krize, Nikki (October 27, 2015). "Susquehanna University Drops 'Crusader' from Nickname". WNEP. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  38. ^ "Valparaiso University Unveils New Nickname". Valpo Athletics. August 10, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  39. ^ Rivenburg, Roy (October 10, 2000). "Wheaton's Inoffensive Mascot Comes From Above". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2021.

External links[edit]