For whatever reason, it’s obvious that the story of the faith-based wrestler Joel Northrup has struck some kind of national chord in the hearts and minds of evangelicals, sports fans and sports fans who are evangelicals. Young Joel’s decision to forfeit rather than to engage in combat against a female opponent — Cassy Herkelman — has really ticked of some people.
Nevertheless, I stand by what I said in my original post: I have been pleasantly surprised by the respectful tone of most of the mainstream news coverage — as opposed to opinion writing — of this story.
Then again, there have been some glaring exceptions.
As a rule, the pros at ESPN seem to be divided on the issue of whether faith issues should be included as relevant material in sports coverage. However, a recent ESPN.com essay — not a news story — by the highly talented and respected Rick Reilly openly raised another issue: Are minority religious beliefs worthy of respect?
Let’s jump in at the pivot point in the piece:
The Herkelmans — and most of the state of Iowa — praised Northrup for being a boy of faith. “It’s his religion and he’s strong in his religion,” says Megan Black, the only other girl who made state. (These were the first two in the state’s history. Black lost both her matches.) “You have to respect him for that.”
Does any wrong-headed decision suddenly become right when defended with religious conviction? In this age, don’t we know better? If my God told me to poke the elderly with sharp sticks, would that make it morally acceptable to others? And where does it say in the Bible not to wrestle against girls? Or compete against them? What religion forbids the two-point reversal?
Remember, Northrup didn’t default on sexual grounds. Didn’t say anything about it being wrong to put his hands in awkward places.
Again let me stress that this is opinion writing, which is normally the kind of work that GetReligion scribes avoid mentioning. However, I agree with several readers (and a GetReligionista or two) that this piece offers interesting insights into beliefs and attitudes that have helped shape some, repeat some, of the news coverage.
Meanwhile, some journalists have continued to probe Northrup’s beliefs and motives.
In particular, this blog item at CNN.com contains some interesting follow-up quotations from the controversial Christian student-athlete.
The high school wrestler in Iowa who forfeited a match against a girl in a state tournament last week says he objected both to “compromising” positions that such a match could entail and to the idea of inflicting violence on a girl.
“Wrestling is a combat sport, and at times it gets violent, and you get put in moves and holds that are comprising,” said Joel Northrup, a sophomore. “I just don’t believe it’s right that a boy and a girl should, in this manner, wrestle.”
Northrup’s dad, Jamie, said that the decision to forfeit was his son’s alone but that it reflected the family’s Christian convictions.
“Even though there’s no specific Scripture that addresses wrestling with girls, there is the biblical Christian principle of treating women with respect and dignity,” Jamie Northrup said, “and not looking at them as objects to be defeated on the wrestling mat to be, in some cases, groped or slammed.”
Is this story over? I would think so at this point.
Then again, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Maureen Dowd-Frank Rich camp took another run at it. Would they dissect the same case in the same way if the male dissenter was an Orthodox Jew or a Muslim? I think that’s a valid question and one that might show up, sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, for GetReligion purposes, please help us keep looking for constructive coverage of this story that focuses on news content. You know, things like new quotes and facts.
ILLUSTRATION: An early AP video report on the case.