I believe the annual NCAA Championship wrestling tournament in March to be one of the best annual events on the American calendar. Yet the event comes and goes annually without much fanfare outside of the hardcore, but tiny, niche wrestling fanbase.
This year was no different. The wrestling itself was great. In one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport Matt Ramos of Purdue pinned three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee. Vito Arujau of Cornell tore through the field and dominated the #2 seed Daton Fix from Oklahoma State and two-time returning champion Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State. Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell became the fifth wrestler in NCAA history to capture four championships. Keegan O’Toole of Mizzou defended his national championship by avenging his conference championships loss to David Carr of Iowa State. Carter Starocci of Penn State tore through the field before pinning Mike Labriola of Nebraska in the finals for his third championship.
And then there was Aaron Brooks.
Brooks captured his third championship by dominating Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa, helping Penn State coach Cael Sanderson capture another team title. The wrestling greatness of Brooks isn’t up for debate- he’s as solid as they come. His judgment however is up for discussion.
When Brooks was interviewed on ESPN by Quint Kessenich he took time to praise Jesus. That’s fine and to be expected. Wrestling in America has a very Christian culture and open displays of religiosity aren’t uncommon. However, it wasn’t enough for Brooks to profess his own faith, he took his to call Muhammad a false Prophet and take a cheap shot at Muslims.
If Brooks were a TV preacher or at a church he’d be free to do as he pleased. However, Brooks is a student-athlete representative of Penn State and wears their uniform. Penn State is a public university and this means the hundreds of thousands of Muslim citizens of Pennsylvania are helping to pay for the program. They aren’t paying for someone to bash Prophet Muhammad while wearing official Penn State gear.
Furthermore the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania itself is home to a large and vibrant Muslim community. Philadelphia is often referred to as the “capital of Black Islam in America” and is also home to large communities of Arab, West African, South Asian, and Indonesian Muslims. Pittsburgh has one of the oldest Black mosques in America, the Lehigh Valley has a growing and vibrant planned Muslim community, and State College itself is home to a mosque and a vibrant Muslim Students Association.
I confronted Brooks after the tournament and asked him why he had to put Muslims down in order to promote his faith. His response was that all religions and prophets are false other than those of Christianity. “Jesus is the only way”. Noted, that’s his theological opinion. But this choice to target Muslims, while standing just a few feet away from Muslim Ban architect Donald Trump, shouldn’t be viewed as coincidental.
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Umar Lee is a writer and activist from St. Louis. He may be reached at Umarlee@gmail.com and can be found on Twitter @UmarleeIII.
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