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March 22, 2023

Aaron Brooks: All-In for Jesus

Penn State’s three-time NCAA champion wrestler is outspoken and unapologetic about his commitment to Christ.

Prior to donning his headgear and heading out to the mat on Saturday night, Penn State’s 184-pound Aaron Brooks looked as ready as ever. And yet he looked different.

It was the bandanna. Tied across his forehead, bright white with bold black lettering, it carried a message equally as bold: 100% Jesus. We could practically hear the gnashing of teeth from the NCAA’s risk-averse, money-grubbing, politically correct pooh-bahs. But this was college wrestling, where wokeness isn’t welcome.

Brooks, there in Tulsa to compete for a third straight NCAA championship, went on to defend his title in dominant fashion, 7-2, against Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen. At the end of the match, he shook his opponent’s hand, then hugged him, then pointed skyward with both index fingers and mouthed something we couldn’t catch. But it looked like he was giving thanks.

Then came the moment that Brooks seemed to enjoy most of all: the requisite post-match interview. After Brooks got a congratulatory hug from a friend and fellow Christian wrestler, Iowa State’s David Carr, ESPN’s Quint Kessenich asked Brooks how his strong faith helps him on the mat.

“It’s everything,” he said, his chest still heaving. “Christ’s resurrection is everything. Not just his life, but his death and resurrection. You can only get that through Him. The Holy Spirit only through Him. No false prophets, no Muhammad, no anyone else.”

At that moment, he looked right into the camera and said, “Only Jesus Christ Himself.”

To Kessenich’s credit as a journalist, he kept trying to talk to Brooks about his performance on the mat. And to Brooks’s credit as a Christian, he kept bringing the conversation back to the importance of his faith.

“Power and finesse, your calling card,” said Kessenich. To which Brooks replied: “The Holy Spirit. Acts chapter 1, verse 8 … that’s everything.”

Kessenich gamely tried again: “Put in perspective winning three of these in a row. In dominating fashion, by the way.”

Brooks, though, wouldn’t take the bait. “I’m blessed,” he said. “God uses me. He gives me this platform for this right here, to exalt Him. … When I’m suffering, cutting weight … away from my family, it’s all for Him, all for His glory.”

It was a stirring moment and a glimpse into a brutal yet magnificent sport whose Christian roots run deep. Wokeness seems to have permeated and infected every other collegiate sport, but not wrestling. Perhaps God smiles upon this one, knowing that He Himself wrestled with Jacob in Genesis 32.

If God loves wrestling, then those on the Left must hate it. Surely they hated what they saw as Brooks’s “false prophet” disparagement of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. But in John 14:6, Jesus says much the same thing: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In any case, it was too much for Dave Zirin, who serves as sports editor of the hard-left The Nation. “Disgusting,” he tweeted. “But he can say what he wants. Why is the NCAA promoting this anti-Muslim rhetoric? What a bankrupt ‘non-profit.’”

Zirin is actually right about a couple of things: Aaron Brooks can indeed say what he wants. The First Amendment guarantees both his religious liberty and his ability to speak freely. And the NCAA, as Zirin notes with his scare quotes, is hardly a nonprofit organization.

But nor is the NCAA a fearless and resolute organization, nor a tolerator of Christianity, nor a disparager of Islam. Whether due to the hysterics of anti-Christian people like Zirin or some back-channel lobbying by CAIR, the nation’s most prominent Islamic pressure group, the NCAA yanked down its Twitter video of Brooks’s post-match interview.

We’d guess none of this bothers Brooks too much. “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” he said, quoting 2 Timothy 2:3 during a separate post-match interview. “Endure, endure, endure, as a good soldier.”

“You’ve given a lot of great memories to the fans,” an admiring Penn State journalist asked him in closing. “What do you want them to remember when they think of Aaron Brooks?”

“The headband,” he said. “Christ. Him.”

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