Wrestling with sexism

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday February 23, 2011
Share this Post:

Perhaps the two most remarkable things about a boy's refusal last week to wrestle a female opponent in the Iowa state high school championships were that a) anyone had to ask if it was an act of sexism; and b) that the talk-show hosts at KNBR pulled themselves away from musing on Pablo Sandoval's diet and Carmelo Anthony trade talk and actually found themselves talking about wrestling.

The hubbub began when home-schooled Joel Northrup, who wrestles at 112 pounds for a high school varsity team in Iowa, forfeited his first match in the state tournament. Wrestling being what it is in Iowa, Joel and his father Jamie Northup felt a press statement was necessary.

"Wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times," Joel Northup told the local media. "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."

Such nobility. Such sacrifice. Such crap.

Where to begin? Joel Northup does not attend the local public high school. He asked to be allowed to wrestle for the school, knowing full damned well that Iowa high school teams do not separate athletes by sex. He knows that girls are legally entitled to full and equal access to the sports program. So it was a hypocritical choice for him to enter the program. It was unfortunate that he placed himself in that situation.

California is one of five states (Hawaii, Washington, Texas, and Tennessee are the others) to have separate state tournaments for girls, but during the regular season girls and boys train and compete together. Five girls from San Francisco public schools will compete in the girls state tournament this weekend in Lemoore, while the boys have their qualifying tournament in San Francisco for next week's state championship in Bakersfield. The girls who wrestle for me at Mission High School fairly routinely beat and pin boys.

The assumption that wrestling a boy is inherently dangerous for a girl is bunk. Not too many decades ago, NFL owners and coaches used common bigotry to posit that blacks lacked the intelligence to play quarterback. Suppose Joel Northup had been paired against an African American or Asian American opponent and refused to wrestle because he had been taught to believe races shouldn't mingle? Or if he had been paired against a gay opponent and said he didn't want to fight a fairy? Would we have hesitated to say those actions were racist or homophobic?

Northup's father, a youth pastor, defended his son's decision by saying his son is "a Christian kid and believes that girls should be treated with respect, not beaten into submission."

Wow – what the hell is he teaching these kids? All of the coaches I know teach their wrestlers to respect the sport and the opponent. And this isn't submission wrestling: you turn your opponent to his or her back and end with a handshake.

That said, the incident highlights the sexism inherent in the system that should be eliminated. All of the states should offer separate tournaments for girls to give them an equal chance to excel, and all should follow Hawaii's example of recognizing girls wrestling as its own sport. Collegiate women's wrestling uses Olympic freestyle rules rather than scholastic folkstyle rules, so we might as well let them prepare for the style they will have the opportunity to compete in later.

Warriors LGBT Night

Those in attendance at the second Golden State Warriors LGBT Night last week were treated to a rousing halftime exhibition by Cheer SF and an even more rousing second-half charge that led the Warriors to a 102-89 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. When the Warriors won on the road the next night in Utah, 107-100, it moved their record for the season to 26-29 heading into the All-Star break as they attempt to escape mediocrity and reach the playoffs.

Roughly 20 recreational players from San Francisco Gay Basketball League got a chance to play on the Oracle Arena floor before the game. It was the second LGBT Night held by the Warriors. San Jose Pride, Cheer SF and the San Francisco Rockdogs were among the groups recognized on the scoreboard at halftime.