Looks like I’m out of step and behind the times — again.
Yesterday Joel Northrup, a high school wrestler in Iowa, refused to wrestle a female opponent, Cassy Herkelman. And he’s been catching all kinds of grief ever since. Some say he’s a cop-out, a quitter, a sissy; he let down his team. Some say he was wrong to join the team in the first place, knowing full well he might someday face a female opponent. Some say it wasn’t his decision at all, but his parents’. And some say Title IX is a fact of life and Northrup just needs to deal with it.
In defaulting, Northrup said:
… wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith, I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.
Personally I don’t think wrestling is any more violent than, say, football or basketball, and I don’t know of any faith that specifically forbids mixed wrestling. But I do agree with him that it’s inappropriate and that he shouldn’t have had to face such a decision in the first place. I’m all for women’s rights and equality and the intent of Title IX, but I draw the line at mixed wrestling and other contact sports. Equal rights in sports means equal rights to engage in a sport; it doesn’t — or shouldn’t — guarantee or require direct competition against the opposite sex. There are boys’ and girls’ football teams, boys’ and girls’ baseball and basketball teams. So why is wrestling, the sport with the most intimate physical contact, the sport where the sexes are mixed?
It defies reason to teach our little boys that they should always respect girls, never abuse them, and never, ever touch them inappropriately, and then expect them to forget all that and step onto the mat to wrestle a girl. It defies reason to drum into our little girls’ psyches that they are to respect others and themselves and that it’s always wrong for anyone to touch them inappropriately — and then send them out a wrestle a boy.
Of course sports are not about sex. But to condone wrestling, of all things, between hormonal teenage boys and girls contravenes everything these kids have been or should have been taught.