A high school wrestler in Iowa, a state that's home to a highly-competitive hotbed for amateur scholastic wrestling in the U.S., lost his first-round match at the state tournament because he refused to wrestle a girl. I find the child, Joel Northrup, to have a less than compelling logic, but I'm not sure the issue his non-participation raises is altogether irrelevant. A local Fox affiliate has more on the story:
Joel Northrup defaulted his state tournament match against Cassy Herkelman, one of the first girls to ever qualify for the event.
Northrup's father says his son's religious beliefs prevented him from wrestling a member of the opposite sex.
"Joel believes based on his conscience and his faith, that girls should be treated with dignity and respect," said Joel's father, Jaime Northop.
Northrup was allowed to compete in the consolation rounds because he defaulted rather than forfeiting. He won his first match.
If we take amateur wrestling to be a combat sport and ask generally, "Should men compete against women in combat sports?", then we are likely to say 'no' in almost every case. And if we are going to permit it, then we need to flesh out territory where this is permissible.
The most compelling argument for leaving girls in high school tournaments like this is that they qualified for the state tournament. That seems generally a reasonable condition of permitting entry. But, are we going to use that as a demarcation line for all weight classes? In this case, we are talking about the 112 lbs weight division, a cross section of human biological size where women are more naturally going to have a chance to compete across genders.
All I'm pointing out is that in sparring, women compete against men in virtually all of the combat sports disciplines. But in sport jiu-jitsu, amateur wrestling at collegiate level and above, MMA, tae kwon do and judo, the sexes do no compete against one other. Part of this may be discriminatory holdover attitudes. Part of it is concerns for safety. Part of it participatory rates among women naturally preclude the possibility.
But if we are going to permit this, is using the "smell test" really robust enough and reliable enough of an decision engine to answer the question? It's deeply unsatisfying for me. While the female wrestler in question here is probably having to wade through more attention than she bargained for, her participation in the tournament demands the question about mixing sexes in combat sports get further consideration.
Tom Scocca of Slate, however, thinks the issue is nothing more than trying to have one's cake and eating it, too:
But entitlement means never having to sacrifice anything. The Northrups were too good or too godly for high school, but they weren't too good for high school sports, until high school sports turned out to include gender equality, at which point they wanted to drop out again. Once the high school athletic system gave him a suitably male consolation-round opponent, Joel Northrup went back to being a participant.
It's like the ultra-Orthodox Jewish students who sued Yale in the '90s because they wanted to go the university but be segregated from the opposite sex. Either turn your back on the sinful world and its rights for women, or don't. Society isn't an a la carte menu, and the whole human race is not there to be your waiter. If you want to be a wrestler, wrestle your draw.
I think Northrup's dubious logic masks a more much important question for the combat sports community. It's not an idle thought even if Northrup's case is more easily navigable.