Joel Northrup, a standout high school wrestler in Iowa (sort of the wrestling capital of the world, if I remember correctly), has foregone his chance to win a championship because he would not wrestle a girl in the tournament. He cited his religious faith (Pentacostal) as the main reason he would not participate. At the same time, he also graciously praised the accomplishments of the two girls who made the tournament.
How should we think about this? Here are some possibly relevant points:
- The state should not be running wrestling tournaments or sporting events in general. (I agree, but this is sort of a cop out argument).
- Few post-pubescent high school boys (see next point) wrestling in the 112 lb. class can make that weight without serious weight loss programs that constitute, essentially, state-sanctioned self abuse by children. OK, this is only marginally relevant, but as someone who does research in the health sciences, I had to say it anyway. (This is a non-libertarian support for the above point.)
- Quite a few of the boys who make the cut at 112 pounds do so because they are late bloomers. Thus, they are not really boys being beaten by girls, but old boys being beaten by young women.
- Furthermore, the physical differences (especially in terms of upper body muscle mass, but in almost all ways that affect athletic performance) between post-pubescent males and females are so dramatic, that the ability of girls to compete successfully with boys will be highly rare events. Even in sports with minimal athletic demands (golf, for instance), we do not see women successfully competing against men when they are held to the same standards. Should this mean that those rare cases who can compete should be allowed to, even when there is really no chance of winning the tournament, or does it mean that allowing girls to compete undermines the hard work and accomplishments of those boys who feel it is not appropriate to wrestle with girls?
- In general I am a fan of giving girls the same opportunity to compete as boys. There is something to be said about letting the issue be settled on the mat, court, or playing field, not by adults in school board rooms.
- Some people have religious values that clearly should not be sanctioned by the state because they are sexist. Not letting women into medical school, for instance, is sexist. But doctors are not required to grope each other for several minutes at a time in order to advance their careers (even though Grey’s Anatomy tells a different story). This case seems qualitatively much different, however.
- Sending the message to young boys that throwing women to the ground and pinning them there is not a good idea. One could say the same thing about throwing men to the ground, but the rates of violent sexual assault we have in our society suggest a particular need to reinforce non-violent behavior between the sexes (where, on average, there is such a difference in physical strength).
- Many see a religiously based prohibition against this kind of inter-sex contact as quaint and old-fashioned, which is exactly why they would promote girls wrestling in the first place. After all, a little wrestling is far less sexually charged than your average teen drama on TV, isn’t it? A decline in moral values in one area, though, does not justify abandoning those values in all arenas.
- Finally, let’s be honest here: Duh!
I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. Here is a boy who has devoted many hours of sweat and hard work (as I said, probably to a level of self abuse) to reaching the state tournament. He now walks away from it because of his personal values. It would have been much easier to just pin her to the mat and be done with it. But whether or not one agrees with his values, shouldn’t we applaud a kid that actually has some values and sticks with them?