When my friend posted a link to the story of Joel Northrup—the 16-year-old Iowa wrestler who defaulted rather than wrestle a girl, Cassy Herkelman, in a state tournament last week—I was floored when my athletic, competitive friend said she had "mixed emotions" about his decision. I imagine this friend, had she pursued wrestling and not track and field in high school, would've wanted the opportunity to wrestle. Even if it meant competing against the boys.
My reaction to this story was decidedly unmixed. I think Joel should have wrestled Cassy.
Not that I don't get some of the issues at play here. I understand that teenage boys, as a rule, are stronger than teenage girls. I understand that boys wrestling girls could introduce some sexual awkwardness. I agree that the best-case scenario would be for Cassy to be able to wrestle in an all-girls wrestling conference.
But in this world, best-case scenarios almost never exist. So our job as Christians is to figure out how best to live and behave in these broken scenarios, how to be "salt and light" in every arena.
Which brings me back to Joel, since he cited his Christian faith as reason to default.
In his statement, Joel 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."
I applaud Joel's decision to back away from any seeming violence toward girls. But I wonder why he thinks the Christian faith smiles on violence-for-fun against fellow boys. I'm confident that it doesn't. My guess is that his decision to default has more to do with his view of who is against him on the mat than it does with actual violence. And I think his refusal has ...1
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