I have a new hero; his name is Brendan Johnston.
Social media was abuzz Saturday, February 23, after it was reported that Colorado high school wrestler Brendan Johnston, forfeited his third-round, state tournament match against a girl named Angel Rios.
From the Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, Johnson’s forfeit knocked him out of the winning bracket and consequently knocked him out of any chance at winning a high school state wrestling title his senior year.
Immediately, people started screaming misogynist! stupid! chicken! and a myriad of hateful names. They simply could not understand why Johnston refused to wrestle a girl.
After all, Rios is a tough competitor, who reportedly has trained with drive and determination since 7th grade. So, people thought Johnston should have faced Rios with the same sense of competition that he would against any other male opponent.
Those same people were even more shocked to learn that Johnston finished his final year of high school wrestling with a record of 37-6, all six losses were forfeits, one a medical forfeit and the others were refusals to wrestle girls.
In fact, the state tournament marked the fifth time that Johnston forfeited to Rios. He also declined to wrestle Jasslyn Gallegos in the tournament’s first round.
37-6, let those stats sink in. Johnston had not actually lost a match all year.
So, it’s safe to say Johnston had a reasonable chance to make it to the winner’s podium his senior year of competition. Instead, he forfeited that chance. For the first time in Colorado history, two girls placed in the state tournament — Gallegos took fifth, and Rios took fourth in the 106-pound weight class.
I have two grown sons who competed in various sports from preschool through college, and I can tell you how important that podium was to Johnston. I have been to the state tournaments with my boys, and I know the impact of victory and defeat at that level of competition.
As a mother of athletes, I can imagine Johnston’s pain. Just like Rios and Gallegos, just like my sons, and just every other wrestler at that tournament, Brendan Johnston wanted that win. He had worked for it, dreamed of it, and even tasted it. Yes, Johnston wanted that victory. He just did not want it bad enough to sacrifice his integrity and honor.
So, needless to say, I was in awe of Johnston’s responses to the media’s interest. He explained to a reporter from the Denver Post that his refusal to wrestle Angel was a matter of respect for her.
“I’m not really comfortable with a couple of things with wrestling a girl. The physical contact, there’s a lot of it in wrestling,” said Johnston. “And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat or off the mat.”
Wow! I want to give Brendan Johnston a medal for true manhood.
It is rare to see that kind of masculinity portrayed in any media outlet. Instead, we often hear how the American male is aggressive, self-centered, and devoid of all courage, honor, and strength. In fact, courage, honor, strength, and masculinity, in general, have almost become dirty words.
Social media is flooded with the #metoo hashtag, a symbol designed to remind us that women of all ages have repeatedly been physically and sexually mistreated and abused by…men. In detailed accounts on national news sites, we constantly hear stories of reported misuse, abuse, disrespect, and dishonor inflicted upon women at the hands of men, often national leaders.
The negative portrayal of manhood extends to our homes as well. Sadly, statistics show that more than 25% of American children live in fatherless homes. And more than half of the fathers in the home say they do not spend enough time with their children.
The impact of those statistics reaches beyond our homes into our schools. Around 18% of all women reported having experienced date rape, with 35% of those women being ages 18-24. And 43% of college-age women reported incidents of male aggression or violent and/or abusive dating relationships.
Americans sat glued to our seats and watched the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh as he defended those exact types of accusations in a nationally televised circus-like forum. It’s no wonder people were quick to jump to unsubstantiated conclusions. After all, we have been trained to believe all men are aggressive, all men are abusive, and all men are evil.
Yet, here we sit, condemning an 18-year-old boy from Colorado Springs, Colorado when he refuses to wrestle a girl. Talk about hypocrisy! Condemning a boy for refusing to be aggressive toward a girl his own age is the absolute definition of oxymoronic!
We cannot have it both ways. We either teach our sons to respect women physically, mentally, and spiritually, or we don’t! Physical aggression is physical aggression, even in the midst of competition.
Ironically, it took the love of two mothers to put the entire episode into perspective.
Johnston’s mom ended up sitting near Rios’s mom during the state tournament. Seeing that Rios’s mom was hurt and offended when Brendan forfeited the match, she quietly introduced herself. As they conversed, Angel’s mom, Cher, explained why she felt disrespected.
Judy Johnston understood that frustration, but she told Cher, “I know she’s worked hard, but Brendan feels it’s not appropriate to interact with a woman that way, to be physical on or off the mat, at this stage in life.”
Angel’s mom finally agreed that she could see his point. That was it. Both moms wished the other well and moved on. And, of course, the story ended well for Angel with a fourth-place finish.
But for Brendan, his personal (and religious) decision to forfeit a state match could have far-reaching implications. He has looked into Division III wrestling at Wheaton College next year, but that is not a certainty. Brendan doesn’t seem too concerned though. He said, “There are bigger things than wrestling.”
So, according to Psalm 62:7, Brendan Johnston is already a champion: “My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.”