Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gender and Religion Making a Difference in Sport

Have you ever been compelled to do something that interested you but never put fourth the effort because it was out of the norm or other's felt different about it? Among feeling anxious, excited and complete this is how I felt when I decided to join the sport of wrestling. I began in the second grade but didn't completely know what I was getting myself into until 7 years later. All I knew was how much I loved what I was doing and that I continued to grow as an individual. A common question I would be asked was, "Is it weird wrestling other guys?" and I always replied, "I don't see it as a female versus a male but a wrestler versus a wrestler". When I began wrestling I had never seen a female in the sport. With this being said, there wern't any women's teams at the scholastic level. When I did reach the age when I had to decide if I wanted to wrestle on the men's modified team I went for it. I did really well on modified and only really noticed that I was having an insane amount of fun and had a crowd of mom's following me from match to match to cheer me on.

It wasn't until my fresman year that I was told I would be wrestling on the men's varsity team. I was thrilled but much to my surprise I had more against me than I ever thought possible. My father was contacted by the athletic director of my high school and was told that we would have to come into his office for a meeting before I was allowed to be on the team. I knew that Title IX existed so I assumed there wouldn't be any trouble. I was wrong. Title IX did exist but there were ways to make it difficult for me to actually make the team. During the meeting I remember the Athletic Director telling my father that I "would be touched by males in places I may not want to be touched". My father didn't know what to say aside from pointing out the obvious fact that he knew I was a female. I sat quietly and nodded my head for most of the time until he asked me "what are you going to do if you are touched where you wouldn't like to be touched?" I responded with, "I'll pin him". He realized I wasn't going to be scared away from wrestling and proceeded to tell me I had to complete a physical test passing all of the criteria in order to actually be on the team. As he listed all of the catergories including a timed mile and a half, a set number of crunches in a minute, a timed shuttle run, a standing long jump, a timed 50 yard sprint, and a timed chin up I asked him why I had to be tested. His response was because I had to be compared to the boys. When I asked him what boys, I was the only one taking the test on my team, he changed the subject.

I didn't question him because I was willing to do anything to wrestle. I passed this test that became an annual pre-requisite just for me to continue to be on the team. Earning my teammate's respect was the first obstical I had to overcome. I put in the same, if not more, effort as everyone else. Knowing I was at a disadvantage strength wise I knew I had to push myself to prove I could be equal, if not better than the men. It wasn't long until I had that trust and respect from my teammates and coaches.

This respect helped me get through years of being stereotyped. I was stereotyped as gay, manly and unintelligent. None of these ever made sense to me because I knew who I was and those that stereotyped me never got to know me as an indivdual. Friends and teammates that did know me personally would say I was never the person that the stereotype made me out to be. Being stereotyped did have a harmful effect on me because it made me quieter and less eager to make new friends. Teachers as well as students need to be aware of what stereotyping can do to an individual because stereotyping is just a false identification given to an individual you may know nothing about.

That first year on the varsity level opened my eyes to the different kinds of controversy that was involved with opposite sexes facing each other in a sport. I had numerous articles written about my wrestling ability in the newspapers but my gender was always focused upon. I was seperated from my team during weigh-ins and was never allowed to weigh in naked (to be lighter on the scale) like the men. I had one opponent tell his coach he wanted to wrestle me. He had that "I'll put you in your place" attitude. After poking me in the eyes numerous times I pinned him and recieved an apology from him and his teammates after the match. I was often given forefits because some opponents wouldn't want to wrestle a female in fear they would either lose or hurt me. This was frustrating because although it gave me a win, I always felt as though I didn't earn it.

I can only imagine how Cassey Herkelman felt as she was awarded the Iowa State Wrestling Championship title at 112lb partly because of a forefit by Joel Northrup earlier on in the tournament. You ask, his reason for forefiting the possibility of winning a State Championship title that he had dedicated so many hours of training for? Because of his religion. Northrup's father is a minister in the Believers in Grace Fellowship, an independent Pentecostal church in Marion that believes young men and women shouldn't touch in a "familiar way". His father stated in an interview, "It's totally his choice. He's a young man now and he's worked hard to get where he's gotten. It's up to him, and it was his conviction" not to wrestle Herkelman. Among Herkelman was another female in Northrup's bracket and that was Megan Black. Megan mentioned that Northrup had been matched up with her three years prior to this state tournament and forefitted due to his religion. She stated that she respects him for adhering to his beliefs.

After hearing about this I was upset that a forefit led Herkelman to her state championship because if I was in her shoes I would have wanted to earn each one of my wins in a fair match. She did respect Northrup for his decision and continued on to win her State title. Unfortunatly she had no control over the forefit she recieved and I am happy for her and the accomplishments she has made.

Northrup had a commitment that was bigger than wrestling and he stuck to it. I also respect him for his decision on sticking to his religion although I have different beliefs.

I have had a similar situation happen to me during my sophmore year. I was schedualed to wrestle in the Class tournament at 103lb as the first female in NYS Section 3 to do so. The night before the tournament my coach called asking me to hand my spot to the 96lb wrestler because he was having trouble making weight. Usually we would have a fair wrestle off during practice to decide who would take the spot. The 96lb wrestler happened to have the same beliefs as Northrup and was never allowed to wrestle me although we were teammates in the same weight class. I was a year younger and knew I would have two more chances at the Class title which would eventually put me through to sectionals, a life long dream. I gave him my spot not knowing my wrestling career would end at the start of the following year with an acl tear.

I do have respect for other people's religions that they follow and the beliefs that they have but I believe bringing those beliefs into athletics and having one person's beliefs effect another person's outcomes in a sport shouldn't be happening. Religion and sport, to some extent sould be kept seperate. If that can't be done, as in Northrup's case, they should walk away from the competition all together and not wait to hand a free win to an opponent. Many people saw this forefit as a fearful act because of the male-female set up. Although this is true for some male wreslters, it is not for true for Northrup. He has the utmost respects for his female opponents but chooses not to wreslte them due to his religious beliefs which fall under gender differences. He respects their accomplishments in the wrestling world but because his religion over powers his wrestling world he will always choose his religion and beliefs over a wrestling match.

To view more about the Herkelman and Northrup debate view the videos below and find more deatils in the following links:

1 comment:

  1. You've been an amazing athlete in all the sports you have participated in. Your commitment, focus, and passion are always evident. It has been a pleasure and an honor to cheer you on from the sidelines, and to let everyone know I am your auntie. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Iowa State Wrestling Tournament. Girls still aren't treated as equals, but thanks to you and a rare handful of other girls who love the sport, it won't always be this way. Every time you ladies stepped on a mat, you won...regardless of who's hand was raised in the center at the end.