On Tuesday I wrote about how ESPN.com's Rick Reilly slammed 16-year-old Iowa wrestler Joel Northrup for his decision to forfeit a state tournament wrestling match against 14-year-old freshman Cassy Herkelman, citing his religious convictions about the impropriety of wrestling a girl.
Reilly mocked Northrup's beliefs as "wrong-headed," oddly comparing his refusal to wrestle Herkelman with someone using their religion to justify "pok[ing] the elderly with sharp sticks."
But it seems Reilly is an aberration with his bigoted vehemence, so I thought it good to point out a sports writer who commended Northrup's decision -- even though he respectfully disagrees with it -- and challenged America's kids to stay true to their convictions.
Here's an excerpt:
I don't agree with Northrup's decision. I think girls should be allowed to compete against boys, especially in sports such as wrestling, where there are no girls' teams. Part of competing is having your opponent treat you like anyone else in the sport. I'm not sure why a wrestler should treat girls with more respect than boys. If it's bad to body-slam a girl, why isn't it bad to body-slam a guy?
I respect Northrup for standing up for his beliefs. He didn't say Herkelman should not be allowed to wrestle; he just said he wouldn't wrestle her. Northrup, who had a record of 35-4 and was ranked fifth in the state in the 112-pound division, lost his chance to win a state championship by forfeiting the match. That's a big sacrifice. He dropped into a consolation bracket, where he was eliminated from the tournament after he lost a match.
Northrup is not the first athlete to put religious beliefs before athletic success. In 1965, Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher in baseball, and his team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, was in the World Series. But Koufax, who is Jewish, refused to pitch the first game of the Series because the game was scheduled to be played on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish religion.
Koufax's World Series had a happier ending than Northrup's tournament. He pitched later in the series, winning two games, including the deciding seventh game, in which he shut out the Minnesota Twins.
Sandy Koufax put religious beliefs before love for his sport. People admired him for making that decision. Shouldn't we admire Joel Northrup, too?