Sports Law • Risk Management

February 20, 2011: Wrestling with the Issue of Boys vs. Girls on the Mat

It is unfortunate that Joel Northrup, a home-schooled sophomore, had to make the decision of whether it was right for him to wrestle a girl when matched against Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkelman. He decided that it was not appropriate and that it was against his faith for him to engage the girl on the mat in the state wrestling tournament. As I see it, few young men would have the courage to assert their moral beliefs publically and give up the opportunity to wrestle in a championship event. On the other hand, Cassy was courageous and skilled enough to wrestle against boys and get as far as the state tournament. These kids are both winners.

It has been reported that close to 275,000 boys and only 6,000 girls competed in wrestling in 2009 to 2010 and that in most states, the only option is that girls wrestle boys. However, in Hawaii, California and Texas, there are high school girls wrestling tournaments. It seems that there are certain sports that, even in the 21st century, are so male dominated that they haven’t caught up with the progress made with Title IX in equalizing girls/boys opportunities to participate in sport.

From a risk management perspective, I wonder whether more injuries are incurred when girls and boys wrestle each other. I also wonder if boys might exert less effort when matched against girls, but imagine that girls probably exert more effort against boys. I also wonder if there have been any sexual harassment or sexual related issues with these match ups of kids going through puberty. Does a male athlete make contact with the female’s breasts during the match? Does the experience of wrestling females impact a male’s relationship with females in the future?

I don’t know what the answers to these questions are, but I am pleased that girls who want to wrestle are being allowed to do so, even though it sometimes leads to challenging circumstances. In the case involving Northrup and Herkelman, they seem to be learning some important lessons that participating in sport offers people, young and old.