Did any of my readers see the recent story on TV news about the two teenagers of the opposite sex who were scheduled to wrestle in the first round of the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament? The 16-year-old boy, Joel Northrup, and a 14-year-old girl named Cassy Herkleman were set up to a match and the boy refused the match, walked off the mat and had to forfeit to her, losing his chance at a state title. It looked like a case of a win/win for feminists and non-feminists alike but if you look a little closer this is really becoming much more than a battle of the sexes. It seems to be a battle of keeping to your convictions and faith and being penalized for it.
A popular ESPN columnist, Rick Reilly, jumped on the story and I guess it quickly became national news. Joel, who is home-schooled, is also a pastor's son. His father, Jamie, was quoted as saying, "We believe in the elevation and respect of women, and we don't think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns -- full contact sport is not how to do that," when he was questioned by the Des Moines Register about his son's decision.
"As a matter of conscience and my faith," he wrote in a statement, "I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner."
It's too bad his decision was not recognized for an act of faith and that he be given another chance to compete against an opponent that he felt was a comfortable match. I think he should be rewarded for and commended for his ethics. How many teenagers make a stand for anything these days? If it happens we don't hear about it often enough. We'll hear about all the trouble they can and do get into but how often is it the other way around and made into national news?
Unfortunately, Rick Reilly decided to humiliate Joel by saying he was wrong to refuse the match and wrote that,
"If the Northrups really wanted to respect women, they should've encouraged their son to face her."
Perhaps it never occurred to Rick Reilly that they were encouraging their son to think for himself and provided him with the best ideas of character for a man. That is especially true in these times when domestic violence is more rampant than ever and violence against women can be seen on TV sitcoms for several hours nearly every single night. There are several organizations which are gaining strength and momentum trying to help women in situations that have become life-threatening. I personally wonder how this idea that full contact sports, such as wrestling, would show any amount of respect for the person of a female.
That said, this story is really more about the distinctions surrounding gender than it is about these three individuals opinions or wrestling itself. Coed sports is still largely not done especially on a professional level. The passage of mandate title IX in 1972 states that schools receiving federal funding should offer female athletes access to the same opportunities as the male athletes receive. I don't see any reason that this should be interpreted to mean that coed education should be encouraged or even made accessible. These same opportunities exist even if they are separated and it would certainly be more appropriate considering our current problems with violence and vice.
I hope that what Joel's father had to say about his son's conviction, namely that he may not have wrestled Cassy but he did wrestle (and win) with his faith, will get more media attention than Rick Reilly's diatribe. That's a good and admirable thing and ought to be national news more often. Maybe everyone will finally understand why we keep to our convictions rather than go along with everything that is approved of by the world.
Keeping it light but with integrity,
The Castle Lady