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Endangering the Least of These: A Word From the (Evangelical) World of Wrestling | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Photo of a wrestler in a blue mesh tank top with a Liberty University and hawk head emblem and having his arm raised by a referee to signify victory.
Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Staff Photographer, Dallas Morning News

While the NCAA responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by shutting down all sporting events (including March Madness for both men’s and women’s teams), the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) – which consists of club teams outside of the NCAA – held its national championships last weekend in Allen, Texas. Over 600 wrestlers from 84 schools participated in the March 12-14 tournament. 

Despite the NCWA’s assurances that “protocols have been put into place to enhance our already comprehensive practices that prevent the spread of disease,” it is fair to say that safety precautions at the tournament were not exactly rigorous. According to the Dallas Morning News, there were only three competition mats, and they sanitized just three times a day, with dozens of matches taking place in between mat cleanings (and it is not clear if/when the practice mat was sanitized). Moreover, while the NCWA asserted that any athlete whose temperature was over 100.4 would be disqualified, tournament executive director Jim Giunta acknowledged afterward that not one wrestler had their temperature taken. And efforts at social distancing – in the stands, or in the wrestlers’ waiting area – were at a minimum.

Unsurprisingly, Giunta and other tournament officials maintained no communication with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). But it is not difficult to imagine what the CDC would have had to say to them.

While the Dallas Morning News reporter failed to point this out, the NCWA is an organization with a strong evangelical flavor. One of its programs is the 6:12 Project, the name coming from Ephesisans 6:12:  

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 

Not only does the 6:12 Project encourage wrestling teams to come up with community service projects, but it also, through a link on its website, provides member teams with BeliefMap, described as an “advanced debate simulator” that prepares Christians to successfully convince unbelievers not only that God exists, but that 

We are all guilty of sin (lying, stealing, lusting etc.) and, in virtue of His holiness, God’s wrathful final destruction of evil and evildoers is coming soon. There is only one way to be saved from it: you must throw yourself at the mercy of God, and freely accept Jesus’s cleansing of you and transformation of you into a sinless person for heavenly living.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, executive director Giunta explained that he chose not to cancel the NCWA tournament because he thinks a lot of the response to the escalating pandemic “is driven by fear,” and “we’re going to operate on faith rather than fear.” 

Then there is coach Jesse Castro, whose Liberty University wrestling team came away with top honors at the tournament. Echoing his boss (Jerry Falwell Jr.), Castro said that he thinks the coronavirus is being “overhyped” by Democrats as a way to impeach Donald Trump:

Call me a conspiratorist [sic] or whatever. Is that to minimize what’s going on? Absolutely not. But you cannot view this from a prism without being political to some degree. It’s too obvious.

It is too easy to point out that Giunta’s and Castro’s comments are nonsense. Beyond ridiculous and illogical, their comments and actions (and the actions of the NCWA as a whole) are recklessly dangerous. More than this, they are reflective of, as Rod Kennedy pointed out in the previous post, the evangelical anti-intellectual and hyper-partisan disregard for science. 

Such disregard places all of us in danger. Especially the elderly, the ill, the poor, and the unborn.

The common good be damned.