Male-dominated sports need women’s divisions

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By Sarah Whitaker, Contributor

Joel Northrup trained long and hard for the Iowa state championship in Des Moines. His record was 35-4 and his opponent was a freshman girl, Cassy Herkelman. The homeschooled Northrup decided to forfeit, stating it was inappropriate to wrestle a woman.

As a woman who has been in sports, I agree with Northrup. Martial arts are one thing. You are standing up against one another using contact at the limbs. Judo also maintains a distance of respect even though there are close-contact throws. In wrestling, you are as close as you can get.

I have wrestled in both Greco-Roman style and wrestling-entertainment style. To train, you need to get into positions that would otherwise be considered worse than what can get you arrested for sexual harassment.

I found myself disappointed as a high school student at an all-girls institution. I wanted to wrestle, but there was no program for a big girl like me. Track and field had me throwing things, but my heart was in grappling. I have my own ‘old school’ belief system, so I know it’s very awkward for some men to be that close to a woman and think about a sport.  While there is a new revival in mixed martial arts where women can make their names, wrestling still seems to get the raw end of the deal and it has been around for millennia longer.

Now to look at things from a sports and pride angle: one was deprived of a chance to prove herself as the second female to qualify for state in 85 years, and the other was deprived of the tournament he had trained so hard to participate in. Was it Northrup’s fault? Perhaps. 

I always felt shafted in the martial arts in sparring matches where I got a bye. Even though I’ve won trophies, there was still a feeling of disappointment because I got skipped over in the early rounds because of the luck of the draw.

But dumb luck can’t be helped. In this instance, it was by choice.

One would have to judge how he was acting about the situation. It’s easy to tell when a guy is being a jerk and when he’s standing for what he believes. From the quotes I’ve read about this story, I believe that Northrup was doing ‘the right thing.’ Whether people today consider it ‘the right thing’ is up to them. Whether one believes that he was being sexist or moralistic, the young man stood up for what he thought was right.

For example, say there’s a martial arts tournament with no age limit and I enter a division with my six-feet and two-hundred-plus pound size. Before me stands an equal-ranking girl who is nine years old and less than half my size. To go easy on her would insult her as a peer. Because I’m often the biggest person in the bracket, bowing out is not a dishonorable action.

When I spar, I have a hard time controlling myself. I put 110 percent into my fighting and I don’t back away for anything. You can take into account that this girl knew what she was signing up for, but that’s tough since 110 percent can leave my opponent with a concussion or a broken bone.

I don’t blame Northrup for his decision. There just needs to be room for women’s divisions in male-dominated sports so problems like this don’t happen again.

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