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Male who refuses to wrestle female misses meaning of “respect.”

February 22, 2011 – 1:53 PM

By Rachael Goldenberg

This past weekend Joel Northrup forfeited his chance at the Iowa State Wrestling title after refusing to compete against his female opponent, Cassy Herkelman. Northrup explained his decision by stating, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy(’s)…accomplishments… however, wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times.”

Let’s dissect that statement a bit, shall we?

Joel’s definition of “respect” is in direct conflict with the athletic definition of respect. Joel defines respect as requiring men to honor women as a “special” group requiring more care and protection (BTW, the same argument used to keep women from access to higher education and voting).

The athletic definition of respect is having high esteem for another’s athletic excellence.  Joel framed the forfeiture as a dilemma in which he was asked to choose between his athletic beliefs on competition and his religious and cultural beliefs about women’s roles.

How about letting Cassy decide her role?

By viewing Cassy as a girl first and an athlete second, Joel disrespected her commitment to the sport — and he disrespected her athletic prowess.

This is certainly not the only time this has happened. Although girls have beaten boys in wrestling – yes, even pinning them – sometime matches have simply not taken place because wrestlers like Joel fail to see their female opponents as athletes first.

The notion that female wrestlers need “protection” was long ago decided by the courts. If they are on the team, they need no more protection than their male counterparts. Unequal rules based on gender – whether in wrestling or the number of tennis sets played or the distance run or biked — send troubling signals that suggest females have inadequate strength and inferior athleticism.

This translates off the field when men view women as less determined and less capable of handling important professional responsibilities. Women can be just as aggressive, and (yes, Joel), just as violent as men.

Joel’s decision last Thursday was not only a loss for him as an athlete, but also a loss for the sport. Cassy’s skillful presence at the Iowa State Championships should have been used as an opportunity to elevate the competition, but instead it was hijacked as an opportunity for a family to make a political statement on a woman’s role in society.

  1. 4 Responses to “Male who refuses to wrestle female misses meaning of “respect.””

  2. Good to hear from you! Rachel, I think this incident could have been a great teaching moment for the coaches, the schools and Iowa state athletics involved with these young athletes Joel and Cassy. While the goal is to win, there was an opportunity to focus on the true meaning of competition, using your physical skills, mental toughness and game strategy to outwit your opponent.

    By Dawn from Rochester, NY on Feb 23, 2011

  3. I was trying to figure out why this story disturbed me so much when I read about this situation and Ms. Goldenberg hit it right on the head! That is exactly what it was – the real LACK of respect for Ms. Herkelman. Thank you for getting to the heart of the matter.

    By Toby Silver on Feb 26, 2011

  4. Great article. You are right that the same argument can be used to keep women out of many positions of leadership.
    I have sent the article to my daughter who is going to research title nine and write her ELA project about women in sports.

    By Tamara dinolfo on Feb 28, 2011

  5. This is a well-written synopsis of this sad situation, and I am glad I came upon it. The more I get involved with the #EqualFights movement and see the dedication of the women involved in the various “combat” sports, the more I am convinced that it is the wave of the future and should be promoted and supported at every level.

    One thing that I am still unclear on is the #TitleIX debate. While I am all for equal participation of women in any sport that they desire to compete at, I am disturbed by the anti-TitleIX movement.

    I am uneasy because the tenets of TitleIX seem to be used as an excuse for cash-strapped schools to do away with programs that don’t rain glory, revenue and accolades upon the athletic directors of these establishments.

    I would be very interested in gathering some facts about TitleIX and its’ impact upon high school and collegiate sports. Do TitleIX rules mandate that a school program must establish a SEPARATE (read: expensive) women’s program to match each men’s program? Can the requirements of TitleIX be met simply by including, say, girls on the wrestling team if any choose to sign up?

    At first glance from my perspective, TitleIX seems like a very good thing, and as it slowly changes society’s thinking on gender roles and what constitutes “appropriate” behavior amongst boys and girls, our society as a whole will benefit.

    But, if there are “unfunded mandates” or stringent regulations that really are forcing teams out of existence (rather than AD’s using TitleIX as a convenient scapegoat), this needs to be addressed as well.

    Our junior wrestling club has several very successful and motivated girls, and their presence on the mat has brought the level of competition amongst the whole club way up. I hope that these girls will have every opportunity to compete through high school and college, and then onto professional careers in MMA if they so choose.

    TitleIX seems to be making this a possibility for our girls, but I hope that it is not at the cost of smaller, less well-funded programs across the country. Hopefully, a balance can be struck that will allow for the growth of women in the sport without an undue burden on the programs still clinging to existence throughout the land.

    After all, #EqualFights really means equal access for EVERYONE, and federal mandates that lead to closed programs definitely do not meet that goal.

    Please share your TitleIX experience and insight with me at:


    I look forward to learning more about the specifics of this act, as well as its’ implementation (and/or abuse) at programs across the country. Thank you.


    By Sprawl_N_Brawl on Apr 22, 2011

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