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.

Is Lance a Hero?

There has been a bit of debate lately over whether or not cyclist Lance Armstrong is a hero. There have been allegations for quite some time that Mr. Armstrong used banned substances and doping in order to accomplish the incredible feat of winning seven Tour de France titles. Now, the United States Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that he is indeed guilty of such activities, and has stripped him of all prizes and titles he has earned since 1998, in addition to banning him for life from cycling. And while he still says he is innocent, Lance Armstrong has said he will not resist those findings or appeal the ruling.

While I do not know Lance Armstrong, his tenacious drive and competitive spirit do not seem consistent with someone who is indeed innocent simply accepting this kind of consequence. Accordingly–much to my own dismay–I have to assume that the USADA’s findings are accurate.

His winning fight against cancer and his incredible return to cycling made Lance Armstrong a household name, a celebrity, and an inspiration to many. I think one would be hard pressed to find someone who has not seen one of the ubiquitous yellow “Livestrong” bracelets. But what about hero status?

Dictionary.com defines “hero” in part as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” I’m afraid Mr. Armstrong doesn’t quite measure up by that definition. While he certainly has demonstrated “distinguished courage,” his ability must be questioned if he has in fact used performance enhancing drugs and/or engaged in blood-doping. I’m afraid any “noble qualities” are also called into question in light of the fact that Armstrong left his wife and children in 2003–after his successful fight with cancer through which she was by his side–and began dating singer Sheryl Crowe only weeks later. He has since moved on from that relationship, as well. There have been multiple reports, as well, of Armstrong engaging in angry verbal assaults toward other cyclists. The other part of the dictionary.com definition says, “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.” Were there no substantiated cheating, I would say yes, he has performed a heroic act. After all, just completing the Tour de France is incredible, let alone winning it seven times. But that accomplishment is now about as impressive to me as Barry Bonds’ home run record; in other words, not very.

Unfortunately, our culture is so desperate for heroes that influential individuals have intimated that Armstrong is still a hero, regardless of the cheating. Rick Reilly, a well known columnist for ESPN, wrote that if Armstrong “cheated in a sport where cheating is as common as eating” he does not really care. If the standard we go by now is that it doesn’t matter because most everyone else is doing it anyway, we are in serious trouble, and I am not talking about bicycle races. That kind of attitude leads absolutely nowhere good. Newsweek writer Buzz Bissinger wrote of Armstrong, “He is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them. And he needs to remain one.” Well, here’s a newsflash for Newsweek: if our standard for heroes is dishonesty, lack of commitment and narcissism, we should have shortage of heroes.

I do not disagree that we all look for people to look up to, to admire, even to aspire to be like. Whether or not that is inherently wrong is probably a discussion for another day. What I do know is that we must be on guard against ever setting anyone up as a hero and thereby putting on blinders to the possibility that he or she may not be quite the shining star we might like to think. The truth is there are plenty of heroes in our world, but none of them are flawless or infallible…and very few of them get attention from the major media.