Posted in BlogSwap, Post A Day Challenge, Sports

Wrestling with the Idea of Chivalry

Tonight’s blog topic is a shock even to me. Whoever in a million years thought that I would be blogging about sports? Certainly not me. However, there was a story on today that I can’t just let go of. It is the story of a high school boy, Joel Northrup, in Iowa who chose not to wrestle a female opponent, Cassy Herkelman, in their state championship tournament. In a public statement released through the boy’s school, he 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.” I don’t know about you, but I feel for the kid. The decision to default to Cassy cannot have been an easy one.

Gil shared this article earlier today in the social media world and the shit storm started almost immediately. When Gil posted the story, he commented by saying that “chivalry is alive in Iowa”. Chivalry?  For me, chivalry is the knight on a white horse battling dragons and demons for my honor and soul. Chivalry is passing me the umbrella while you stand in the rain. It’s dropping me at the front door while you park a mile away and it’s holding my purse for me at a baseball game while I tie my shoe. When I privately challenged Gil’s choice of wording, he quickly responded with the definition of chivalry from as “courteous behavior, especially towards women”. Eh, I’m still not buying into it. I prefer my mental image of chivalry to this boring definition.

The back and forth discussion continued with the kid being called sexist and Gil responding that “He was conscientious of the matter & concerned about hurting her”. I read this and just hung my head. In my mind, he had just confirmed the sexist theory. It was the “concerned about hurting her” part that got me. In my opinion, that girl won many matches to get where she was, they are in the same weight class and she was well aware of the dangers of the sport. Yet, Cassy chose to be there and more than that, she obviously deserved to be there. The risk to this girl was no greater than the risk to any boy he was competing against. Or was it?

Gil and I had a chance to discuss this later in the afternoon and we have agreed to disagree (three words that top my pet peeve list of phrases). Gil and I agree that Northrup was in a difficult position. Let’s say he did challenge the girl and she was injured. Can you imagine the public outcry and crucifixion of this child for fighting her in the first place? My question is, did the boy not fight her because he was afraid of hurting her or did he not fight her because he feared the public massacre that would surely come if he did hurt her?

Some of the Twitter arguments against Gil’s opinion were that girls and boys should be treated equally. This is the one that I completely disagree with. We are different. Our bodies are different. We may not like it and try to overcome it at times, but we are different. In reviewing over thirty world records in both track and field and swimming, across both men’s and women’s results, had there been no differentiation made by gender, not once would a woman have held the record for that event. This doesn’t mean that women are inferior or that we can’t compete against men. We can. There is no question about it. Women can be and are great athletes.

Why does it become an issue of sexism and inferiority to say that women should compete against women in some sports? If Florence Griffith-Joyner had been forced to race against Carl Lewis at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, she would have never won a gold medal. As a matter of fact, if she had raced against the men in the 100m, she would have come in 7th place. Would Dara Torres have any medals if she had been slotted against Michael Phillips? That’s a big fat no. Why is it so wrong to favor our participation in a group of fellow athletes that more closely align with our own abilities?

Now, in my defense, I’m all for the woman who wants to compete against a man. If you have the physical strength and fortitude to do that, then by all means go for it. I guess this is exactly what  Heckelman is doing in Iowa. She has proven her ability and she should be allowed to go up against any of the boys in her weight class. If this girl has the desire and is good enough, the boys should be willing to square off against her. I wish her luck and I hope she does get the opportunity to prove she is a worthy opponent.

Since this whole discussion started earlier today, I’ve had the opinion that Northrup did not default to Heckelman for any of the reasons discussed earlier. I read his statement over and over and I came to the conclusion that this boy was not wrestling her because of his faith. He said as much, but it was buried in the statement so that it doesn’t stand out. He mentioned combat, violence, his faith and improper engagement with this girl in his reasoning for refusing to wrestle. To me, he’s saying that he refused to engage in a manner that puts her in a violent situation. He is refusing to fight her. I believe there is an underlying belief system that tells this boy to respect women, not fight them. I think that he chose not to wrestle with Cassy, not because he’s afraid of hurting her or because he feels she’s incapable of being a worthy opponent, but out of respect for her and for girls and women in general. Wrestling is a very intimate sport that requires a pretty significant amount of touching. Maybe Joel was uncomfortable with the idea of touching this teenage girl in inappropriate places. Maybe his thought process was that it would be embarrassing for her and for him.

Huh. Maybe Gil was right. Maybe it was chivalry all along.




Animal lover, music junkie, wife of @danaCreative. I'm on a mission to find my authentic self. Love supporting worthy charities and causes however I can.

9 thoughts on “Wrestling with the Idea of Chivalry

  1. I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire the fact you decided to write about this topic. I also love how we started out on different sides of the discussion and managed to find ourselves basically feeling and saying the same thing.


    1. It was driving me nuts today that I couldn’t chime in on the discussion on Twitter. I’m really glad I was able to vent and let it all go here on my blog tonight. Thank you for inspiring me and encouraging me. I know my opinion will not be popular with everyone who reads this but I’m ok with that. Thanks to you. And, it’s great how we met in the middle and didn’t have to agree to disagree on this particular subject. 🙂


  2. I was busy all day yesterday – so this is the first I’ve seen of this (including the story) – so I may not have the facts 100% right…and I’m sure the statement I’m about to make was done so several times yesterday…though if on twitter in 144 characters or less… 😉

    I don’t see this as a matter of “chivalry” and “respect” at all…I grew up in a Christian household – consider myself to be polite and well-mannered (my grandmother made certain of that)…but I was also told (by both parents) that while I was never to hit first – if someone struck me – I could hit them back – male or female…I don’t see a conflict in there…

    And while I never wrestled – I did play soccer against women (1980s – there weren’t a lot of women’s soccer teams) – and did my best to treat them no differently than any other players…I also have a very vivid memory of getting SCHOOLED by a female competitor one game…and my embarrassment was due to me being beaten – period…gender had nothing to do with it…

    To choose to wrestle was her choice…you have to assume that her coach and parents knew she was good enough to hold her own on the mat – and to prevent injury…plus there was a referee there able to stop the match if needed…no one pushed her out on to the mat with a gun to her head – or bound and gagged…and she wasn’t thrown against the lions – she was pitted against someone in the same weight class…

    Does she have a biological disadvantage – yes…but she should know that…but something inside her said “I want to do this”…in some ways – she was DISRESPECTED here – as he was saying “you’re a girl – that in itself is so much of a disadvantage that I think I will injure you”…with no respect to her wishes to compete as an athlete against girls…

    I don’t know if I will go so far as to castigate him for his decision – as I think his heart was in the right place…but I think his decision was far more about him than her…and doesn’t that go COUNTER to being chivalrous??


    1. David, thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a great comment and counter argument. All day long yesterday I would have agreed 100% with you. My first reaction when hearing about the story was that he robbed this girl of a chance to prove herself, and I won’t deny that I was a litte more than pissed. However, I kept going back to the word ‘faith’ in his statement. I did more research after I orignally wrote my notes for this last night and found that Joel’s father is a youth pastor and Joel does indeed have some very deeply rooted religious beliefs, so I want to think those ideals were the reason behind defaulting on the match. I really want to see the good in his decision. I started writing this blog to show how wrong Gil was in his choice of the word ‘chivalry’ and realized when I was done that I had accomplished the complete opposite. I still argue that his original choice of the word was inappropriate and I think he agrees with that now. But, it’s kinda cool how we started out on opposite sides of the argument and ended up finishing in the same spot….almost.


  3. Lee, this is a great post…! I saw the conversation yesterday on Twitter & decided it would be best if I didn’t join in. Having the ability to post an entire thought & how you arrived there is helpful in this case verse being limited to 140- characters. You are an amazing writer, I look forward to your posts. 🙂


    1. Allie, thank you so much. That means a lot to me. I so wanted to reach out to you yesterday but was just too busy to get into it. And like you said, sometimes 140 characters is just not enough. This blog post was a great example of a thought gone astray. I had every intention of proving why the choice of the world chivalry was bad, until I wrote the last paragraph. I was so annoyed with myself when I realized I had kind of proven Gil’s choice of wording was absolutely appropriate….in my opinion. 🙂 Thank you again!


  4. I’m a female athlete. I grew up playing soccer with social teams that had both male and female participants and on all female softball teams. I now play rugby in an all female team.

    Men and Women are different. Generally men are faster and stronger than women, but I emphasis generally. There are always exceptions. Rugby is a very physical game with a lot of contact. Most don’t play rugby against members of the opposite sex. There is too much risk, especially for women. That said, if I knowingly and willingly play a game with guys, I know the risk. I don’t want anyone to treat me different than the guy next to me. In fact, them treating me differently might lead to more injuries sense it goes against the flow of the game. It does bother me during a game of touch that guys say sorry to me and not a guy the did the same thing to a minute earlier. They think I’m weaker or more fragile, doesn’t matter how strong I actually am.

    Joel not wanting to wrestle Cassy is him not having respect for her. She obviously is good enough to make the finals and knows the risks of what she is doing. I generally don’t like chivalry, because you should be courteous to everyone around you not just females. When it’s only towards females, you are putting them as the weaker gender who can’t take care of themselves. Joel saying he is being chivalrous doesn’t justify his actions. He should be allowed to not want to wrestle a female, but deserves any criticism from his decision.


    1. Hey Jess, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I was really wanting the perspective of a female athlete. First I want to point out that it wasn’t Joel who proclaimed chivalry as the reason to not wrestle Cassy. That was a comment Gil used when he posted the link to the ESPN article on Twitter. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear on that in my post. I certainly did not mean to create confusion.

      That said, I completely respect your opinion on his decision. At first, I also felt it was somewhat disrespectful for him to default and not go up against a worthy opponent, just because she was a girl. I felt that way until I reread his statement over and over. That word, faith, just kept leaping off the screen at me. As it turns out, there have been several more articles written that confirmed his decision was based on his religious beliefs that it’s wrong to be violent toward women. God bless him. He’s a young teenage boy who bucked the system because of his beliefs. I’m not sure I could have done that at such a young age.

      I wonder what he would have done if it had been a tennis match or a track and field event? Would the lack of contact have made a difference in his decision. I’m not sure we’ll ever know but I would like to think he would have wholeheartedly competed against her.

      I appreciate you sharing what it’s like to actually compete with boys/men and have them treat you differently. Even though I know men and women are different, I still support the women (you) who is willing to take them on. More power to you and I hope you take them down every time. WooHoo Girl Power! LOL! I had never thought of how the different treatment would affect the flow of the game and how that creates more dangers. See….that’s why I wanted someone who actually knows what they are talking about give their opinion. Thanks so much!


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