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Wide White: Convicted about wrestling a girl

Monday, February 21, 2011

Convicted about wrestling a girl

A tiny event in Des Moines, Iowa, was huge in the lives of the few people involved. It turned out to be a huge event in the sports world too.

Home-schooled sophomore Joel Northrup went 35-4 wrestling for Linn-Mar High School this season. He was a serious contender for the state championship in the 112-pound weight class in a sport that is to Iowa what basketball is to Indiana or football to Texas.

Northrup's first round match was against a freshman from Cedar Falls, who at 20-13 should have lost to Northrup. But this wasn't just any freshman. This was Cassy Herkelman, one of the first 2 girls in the 85-year history of Iowa wrestling to make the state competition. (The other, Megan Black, lost both of her matches in the tournament this year.)

Northrup didn't believe it was appropriate for him to wrestle a girl due to his religious beliefs and instead chose to default rather than face a girl.

We can argue semantics all day long over whether or not it was appropriate for Northrup to default and we won't get anywhere. Should a football player refuse to play if the opponent has a female punter? What if you had to tackle her? How about a female first baseman on a baseball team? How physical is "too physical" for the genders to mix? I don't think these are questions we can objectively answer since everyone has a different worldview of how much gender mixing is appropriate.

Wrestling is about as physical as it gets though. It seems natural that even those without religious conviction may have qualms with engaging with someone of the opposite gender in this sport.

What's been interesting though is to see the reaction from the public. For the most part everyone has been supportive of Northrup, including the other girl in the tournament.
Black said Northrup refused to wrestle her three years ago, and that she respects him for adhering to his beliefs.

"If it's his religion and he's strong in his religion, then I just respect that," Black said. "Obviously, everyone can be pointing fingers at him. He, at least, is true to his beliefs and you have to respect that. It takes a lot for a 15- or 16-year-old boy to do."
Other parents seem to be in agreement with Black.
Marth Stetzel, a mother from Perry who had two sons in the tournament, said she had no problem with Northrup's decision.

"We're really raising kids that are going to be bigger than wrestling, and if it's something that he believes strongly in — which is not necessarily what I would do — you've got to respect a kid like that," Stetzel said.
Of course, Northrup isn't without his critics, including ESPN columnist Rick Reilly. Reilly was vicious in his criticism of the 16-year-old. Among other things, he wrote,
Coming into state, the Cedar Falls freshman [Cassy Herkelman] had won 20 of 33 matches, every one of them against boys. I'm guessing most of them have some kind of faith. I'm sure they all have consciences.
...
The Herkelmans -- and most of the state of Iowa -- praised Northrup for being a boy of faith. "It's his religion and he's strong in his religion," says Megan Black, the only other girl who made state. (These were the first two in the state's history. Black lost both her matches.) "You have to respect him for that."

Why?

Does any wrong-headed decision suddenly become right when defended with religious conviction? In this age, don't we know better? If my God told me to poke the elderly with sharp sticks, would that make it morally acceptable to others?

And where does it say in the Bible not to wrestle against girls? Or compete against them? What religion forbids the two-point reversal?
...
If the Northrups really wanted to "respect" women, they should've encouraged their son to face her.
...
I don't feel as bad for Cassy as I do for Joel. He was the fifth-ranked wrestler in the state at 112 pounds. He was 35-4. He had a chance to win the whole thing. In Iowa, that means a lifetime of people buying you lunch. It's corn-state royalty. To give all that up to protect a girl who loathes being protected? What a waste of a dream.
To say I disagree with Rick Reilly is an understatement. I'm not sure I'd make the same decision as Northrup, but still, I do respect his view. I don't respect his view in the sense that I wish others would make the same decision. I respect it in the sense that I wish more people would simply stand up for their convictions, whatever they are. Reilly is suggesting that because Northrup refused to wrestle a girl, he's sending a message to all other guys that they should be embarrassed that they're willing to wrestle a girl. I just don't see it that way at all.

I've been in Joel's position to a certain degree. When I was 19 I coached a 13-year-old all-star team to the state tournament. That team made the semifinals, which took us into Sunday. I left the team and headed back to be with my family for church the next day. My family's position was (and is) that Sunday is the day of rest, the Sabbath, and we shouldn't engage in any recreation, work, etc. It's a day devoted to God.

I was living at home that summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Being under my parents' roof I was reluctant to make a decision that would violate the way things in the house in which I was living were done. But it's not like they forced me to leave the tournament. That was a decision I'd made long before I left the tournament. I had told the league director I wouldn't coach the team on a Sunday. He knew that and I stood by my decision.

If I were to be in that position today, I would probably coach the game for a number of reasons that would require another post. It simply isn't a conviction I hold any longer. But I have no regrets about the decision I made at the time. In fact, I think any other decision would have been wrong.

Those who aren't religious don't understand religious conviction. Those who do have respect for those who stand by their convictions. I respect Joel Northrup. The kid had a tough, tough decision in front of him. Giving up all chances at a state title sounds crazy to most kids. It probably wasn't much easier for Northrup than it would have been for anyone else. Kudos to the kid for standing up for what he believed in.

Rick Reilly looks at the situation and sees the waste of a dream. I see a kid who believes there are more important things than winning a state title. I agree with the kid.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Keithslady declared,

I guess Rick Reilly hasn't seen Chariots of Fire. Reality ended up being much bigger than any dreams of sporting accolades and fame that Eric Liddell probably ever dreamed of. What carved his name deep in history was adhering to conviction, not chasing a gold medal.

Joel Northrup is only a sophomore. I think we'll be seeing him again, and I'll bet a lot people will be watching.

2/21/2011 8:12 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

I agree with you entirely. I don't know that I would encourage a son (if I had one) to make the same decision, but I respect his right to make the decision. What I see more than anything is the sound of progress. Young women entering areas where they previously weren't welcomed; young men for the most part welcoming them; only one young man (apparently) out of all of them is reluctant to embrace (pun intended) the young women in this new arena; and it's the parents that are really making a big deal about it (because kids are almost always more progressive than their parents).

2/21/2011 12:38 PM  
Blogger watchman declared,

In Northern Michigan, alot of our rural schools can't field soccer teams for both genders. So, we allow them to combine for one Fall co-ed program. It is hilarious watching some of these girls flat out beat the guys. On a high school level, flat out hard work will win 90% of the time. These girls work harder and win.

Then, the guys start making excuses. 'I didn't want to win if it meant I had to level a girl.'

My response: Really? because she had no problem leveling you. Thus, she won.

2/21/2011 2:32 PM  

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