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 ESPN.com 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 Dictionary.com 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.