jasonbwatson

November 18, 2013

I’ll be a nutcase, thank you

The conflict over girls being allowed to participate in boys sports is not a new one, but unfortunately it is not going away, either. Parents of a seventh grade girl in Pennsylvania are suing the school district because it will not allow their daughter to wrestle on the school’s (all male) wrestling team. The school says the reason is that allowing her to participate would present dilemmas for the coaches. The family contends that it is because she is a girl.

Hmmm…ya think?

The family has filed suit in federal court. The district has responded that is does not allow boys and girls to participate together in close contact sports because students have a “right to be protected from undesired contact of sensual body parts from a person of the opposite sex.” The parents countered that their daughter began wrestling when she was in third grade and that in Iowa, where they lived at the time, she was on the school wrestling team in fourth and fifth grade and she competed against boys there. A federal judge has issued an order for the school to allow the girl to sign up for the team and will have a hearing this week to decide whether or not to make that order permanent. My guess is that the judge will rule in the girl’s favor. In my mind, that is unfortunate.

There are girls participating in wrestling all across the country. There are girls on wrestling teams in South Dakota, where I am a school administrator. Our school has a wrestling team and our school policy is that (1) girls cannot wrestle and (2) our boys cannot wrestle girls on other teams. If there is a girl on another team that one of our boys would be paired with, we forfeit the match. There is no discussion, no question, no negotiating. And yet this is not out of some sexist desire to exclude girls or restrict their opportunities or treat them as lesser individuals. It is, on the other hand, out of respect for the girls and the boys and the way in which God created them.

In 2009 John Piper wrote what I think is one of the best responses to the issue of girls wrestling boys. He wrote it in response to first female competitor in a high school wrestling tournament in Minnesota, and it was entitled “Over My Dead Body, Son.” In the post Piper wrote that the moment was not a step forward; “some cultures spend a thousand years unlearning the brutality of men toward women,” he said.

In Piper’s inimitable way he identified the real issue regarding the unwillingness of many to stand in opposition to this perversion of healthy gender roles: “It’s just too uncool. The worst curse that can fall on us is to be seen as one of those nutcases who hasn’t entered the modern world. This is not about courageous commitment to equality; it’s about wimpy fear of criticism for doing what our hearts know is right.”

I was never a wrestler, not in a formal sense. Like probably any male who grew up with a brother close in age I have certainly wrestled. But the sport of wrestling has rules, it has “moves,” and it has uniforms. None of these create a situation that allows for a healthy male-female interaction. First, the uniforms are skin tight. I have never seen a girl in a wrestling singlet and I never want to. Second, wrestling as designed requires grabbing, squeezing, twisting, pushing, pulling… There is, to my knowledge, no other sport in which the opponents are so physically close for so long. Wrestling opponents are literally as close to each other, and entwined with each other, as two humans can be. Tell me then, why in the world any sane parent would allow, much less encourage, a daughter to intentionally place herself in a position to be wearing skin tight clothing pressed together with a young man also wearing skin tight clothing? Piper writes of watching an online instructional video for wrestling, illustrating how to pin your opponent. Of this video he writes, “these two guys are pressing and pulling on each other with unfettered and total contact. And it isn’t soft. It’s what we do not allow our sons to do to girls.”

In 2011 Iowa high schooler Joel Northrup was the fifth-ranked wrestler in the state, but he took a stand when he was matched with a female opponent in the first round of the state championships. Northrup forfeited because he was unwilling to wrestle a girl. Here is what he had to say: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy [Herkelman, the wrestler he drew] and Megan [another female wrestler who made it to the state championships] and their accomplishments. However, 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. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most high-school sports in Iowa.”

Northrup’s father is a pastor, and he said, “We believe in the elevation and respect of woman.” ESPN’s Rick Reilly responded in complete foolishness to that statement when he wrote this on ESPN.com: “That’s where the Northrups are so wrong. Body slams and takedowns and gouges in the eye and elbows in the ribs are exactly how to respect Cassy Herkelman. This is what she lives for. She can elevate herself, thanks.”

National Review‘s Mona Charen wisely challenged Reilly’s comments with this questions: “Are we really sure we want to obliterate the last traces of chivalry in young men — to stamp out every trace of protectiveness from the male psyche?” Charen, like Piper, pointed out that boys wrestling girls are put in the position of either being at a distinct disadvantage or of touching girls in places that boys are told in every other context not to touch girls. Says Charen, “Supporters of co-ed wrestling insist that sex is the last thing on the kids’ minds when they’re in the arena, which is almost certainly false.” She concluded her piece with this summary: “Joel Northrup did the honorable thing by bowing out and refusing to wrestle a girl. He cited his conscience and his faith. They have been better guides for him than this gender-neutrality ideology has been for the state of Iowa.” I agree wholeheartedly, though I would suggest that gender-neutral ideology has been detrimental to far more than just the state of Iowa (as, I am sure, would Charen).

Selwyn Duke, writing for American Thinker, said this: “Having girls and boys grapple on mats in front of spectators is nothing short of social perversion.” Later, Duke writes, “We put boys — whose natural desire to be a knight in shining armor and protect girls should be cultivated — in an unreasonable position: They either have to contribute to the defeminizing of the fairer sex or the emasculation of their own.”

I am not really convinced that girls need to wrestle at all. If they do need to, though, they should be wrestling each other, not boys. After all, what other sport is there at the level of high school or above where girls and boys compete against each other? I cannot think of any. And if there is any sport in which coed participation should not be happening it is wrestling! Jen Chu, the Pennsylvania director for women’s wrestling, agrees. She said, in a March 2012 article for Max Preps (a web site devoted to high school sports), “My goal is to have something completely separate from the boys and establish girls wrestling. The answer is to separate girls and boys wrestling, and the way to expand the sport is to separate it.”

Bottom line, girls and boys should not be wrestling each other. There is no realistic argument that supports it. The gender equality argument does not. The comparison to other sports does not. The biblical perspective certainly does not. We need men and women to stand up for the truth, to be willing to say to each other and to their children that boys wrestling girls is not right, it does not benefit anyone, and we will not allow it. And if, in Piper’s words, that means someone will see me as a nutcase, sign me up.

July 30, 2012

Let’s Be Fair

Like millions of others, I have been watching a lot of Olympic events since Friday’s opening ceremony. And last night, like many others, I empathized with US gymnast Jordyn Wieber as she realized that she will not be going to the All Around competition because of a bizarre rule which restricts qualifiers for the finals to not more than two per country.

Wieber is the reigning world champion, and was a favorite for medal contention at these Olympic games. Yet, due to the strength of the US women’s gymnastics team, she was edged out by teammates Alexandra Raisman and Gabby Douglas for one of the two finalist positions from the US.

(Completely as an aside, I watched all of the floor routines by the US gymnasts last night, and, though certainly not a qualified or trained observer of gymnastics competition, I fail to see how, in a sport where tenths and hundredths of points really matter, Raisman’s floor exercises earned a score of .659 points higher than Weiber’s… But like I said, that’s not the point).

In reality, what the IOC rule does is attempt to create a level of “fairness” that pure competition may not–and last night, did not–create on its own. Apparently the powers that be feel that it is important to ensure that as many countries as possible are represented in the finals. The relevant portion of the rule reads, “The best 24 individual gymnasts (maximum two from each country) go through to the Individual All-Around final, where gymnasts compete on all apparatus.” Shortly thereafter, it continues, “Each apparatus is judged for difficulty and execution, with the highest scoring athlete the winner.”

The problem is–or should be–clearly evident in the very wording of this rule. First, it contradicts itself by saying that the “best 24 individual gymnasts” will go on to the AA finals, but then clarifies that by restricting it to not more than two per country. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that the best 24 will go on, as last night’s competition clearly revealed. The rule then contradicts itself again by saying that the highest scoring athlete is the winner, because Jordyn Wieber scored higher than all but three other athletes in the qualifying round, but I am quite certain she does not feel like she won…because she did not. Though her scores qualified her for the AA finals, the bizarre attempt at leveling the playing field will deny her that opportunity.

According to the Olympics web site (london2012.com) there were 60 competitors in the All Around Individual qualifying round. Jordyn Wieber scored higher than 56 of them. Not only that, she was one of only four gymnasts to achieve a total score higher than 60. Yet, because two of the other three that scored above 60 are Wieber’s teammates from USA, Wieber will not advance to the finals.

I need to point out, as well, that Wieber is not the only gymnast who will suffer from this two-per-county limit. The combination of that facts that she is from the USA, is the reigning world champion, and scored so high will mean that she gets the majority of the attention, but Russia’s Anastasia Grishina (12th overall), Great Britain’s Jennifer Pinches (21st overall) and China’s Jinnan Yao (22nd overall) also scored in the top 24 but will not make the finals because they were the third-highest finishers from their respective countries. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Wieber is not even one of the four reserves for final competition because of the two-per-country rule.

Now, I certainly have no grudge or ill-will toward France’s Aurelie Malaussena, Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Japan’s Rie Tanaka, or Australia’s Ashleigh Brennan, but these gymnasts–at least in last night’s competition–were not among “the best 24 individual gymnasts.” Yet they will be in the AA finals.

I think I have sufficiently set the stage and established that I think this particular IOC rule is absurd. However, this entire scenario serves only to highlight the impact of any attempts to create artificial “fairness.” Every attempt to force fairness at the expense of the outcomes of real competition results in some level of unfairness, whether in athletics, academics or economics.

There are plenty of people who argue for forced fairness in economics, through higher levels of taxation on higher earners in order to redistribute the wealth “more fairly.” There are those who argue that there should be only a certain percentage of students in any class who receive A’s, a certain percentage who receive B’s, the highest percentage who receive C’s, and so on. Such “forced fairness” is anything but. Competition–unfettered, uninterrupted, unadjusted, and completely clean and legal–will, by itself, produce the fairest results every time. No assistance or interference is needed. The problem is, those who aren’t among the “winners” start to cry about it not being fair, and then someone gets the brilliant idea to try to make it fair artificially.

I am a baseball fan, and an Orioles fan specifically. Thus, I am just about required to dislike the Yankees and Red Sox. However, I would never think of suggesting that the Yankees and Red Sox have won the division, the pennant, and/or the World Series enough recently and the Orioles deserve their turn to win. That would be ridiculous! The Orioles only deserve to win if and when they can field the best team and thereby earn the title(s). No true competitor would want a title that came to them just because it was their turn. Such victory would seem hollow…fake. And that’s because that is exactly what it would be.

The fact is, though, the limitation of qualifiers to only two per country is but the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope of forced “fairness.” See, if–to be fair–we have to make sure that no country has more than two competitors in the final 24, it is only a matter of time before someone decides that still is not fair. What if, even with that restriction, there are still countries that do not make it into the finals year after year? After all, if my quick perusal of the competitor’s national flags is correct, Greece, Brazil, Croatia, Chile, Israel and others will not have a competitor in the AA finals. How many years can that be allowed to happen before we need to restrict the finals to one competitor per country so that more countries get to be included? But wait, that might not be far enough either, eventually. After all, there are some countries that have never won an Olympic medal in any event, ever. Surely we cannot allow such inequality. Perhaps there should be a rule created that will allow for medals to be more evenly distributed.

I hope you can see where I am going. Interference of any kind with competition serves only to destroy competition. Attempts at creating equality of opportunity (i.e., no more than two finalists per country) eventually leads to attempts to create equality of results. And while Jordyn Wieber and the Olympic gymnastics competition has served as a prime example of the problem, it is a problem that is much more prevalent, much more far-reaching, and, indeed, much more serious than Olympic competition. So, let’s be fair, and stop meddling with the outcomes.

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