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Rick Reilly: Defender of Women

February 18, 2011

This is going to be a tough one, and I’ll probably piss some people off, but whatever. Let’s dive in.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Sixteen-year-old wrestler Cassy Herkelman doesn’t need anybody protecting her from anything. She’s broken her collarbone, split her lip, deviated her septum, wrecked her elbow, all from wrestling. She’s about as dainty as a forklift.

Poor girl. Women’s empowerment has done a lot of great things, hasn’t it? Like turning teenage girls into forklifts, apparently.

She’s her district’s pony-tailed, 112-pound champion wrestler, boy or girl, kangaroo or camel. She’s not a tulip, isn’t a Jane Austen character, and doesn’t wilt in the heat.

Kangaroo or camel, huh? I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean.

So why did her first opponent in the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament default rather than wrestle her?

Because “wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times,” said 16-year-old home-schooled sophomore Joel Northrup, in a statement. “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.”

Before we go forward, I get this. And I agree. As much as people want to blur the lines between male and female, well, they’re different. And wrestling around with a girl probably isn’t appropriate for a 16-year-old.

Appropriate? When wrestling Cassy, the appropriate thing to do is cinch up your headgear tight. She relishes the violence.

So, of course, Rick will crack a lame joke and say how tough she is. Cause she can do anything a man can do.

Coming into state, the Cedar Falls freshman had won 20 of 33 matches, every one of them against boys. I’m guessing most of them have some kind of faith. I’m sure they all have consciences. And at the end of the match, most of them stood next to her while the ref raised her hand.

Well, they obviously didn’t feel the same way as Northrup.

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?

I don’t understand how this is a wrong-headed decision. Because Reilly said so? Besides, poking old people with sticks and not wrestling a girl are, like, not at all similar things.

Maybe the kid doesn’t want to fight girls. Maybe he’s concerned it would be an occasion of impurity. Maybe he doesn’t want to hurt a girl. Maybe it’s really freaking awkward. Whatever his reasons, it’s not the equivalent to poking an old person with sticks.

And where does it say in the Bible not to wrestle against girls? Or compete against them? What religion forbids the two-point reversal?

Oh good, Reilly’s going to try his hand at exegesis.

Remember, Northrup didn’t default on sexual grounds. Didn’t say anything about it being wrong to put his hands in awkward places. Both he and his father, Jamie, a minister in an independent Pentecostal faith called Believers in Grace Fellowship, cited the physical pounding of it.

Okay. So what’s the problem? It’s what they believe.

“We believe in the elevation and respect of woman,” the father told the Des Moines Register, “and we don’t think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns — full contact sport is not how to do that.”

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.

I don’t understand how Reilly can bash the Nortrups for their beliefs and then turn around and say this. Listen, there’s a difference between girls and boys, men and women. If a kid doesn’t want to wrestle a girl, shouldn’t Reilly be respecting that decision? I mean he respects the girl’s decision to wrestle with boys, and that’s far more controversial.

Reilly’s being illogical. He’s also being wildly intolerant while trying to preach tolerance. It’s a double standard.

“She’s my son,” says her dad, Bill. “She’s always been my son. Since she could walk, she’s always been the tomboy, busting stuff up, walkin’ through glass with her bare feet. Finally, her grandma said to me, ‘You ought to get her wrestling.’” And she’s been doing it since the second grade.

Weird. I kind of think it’s much more respectful to women to treat them and praise them and love as women instead of turning them into brutes.

If the Northrups really wanted to “respect” women, they should’ve encouraged their son to face her. When he didn’t, it created a national media hurricane with Cassy in the eye of it. She was surrounded by 20 of us Friday not for how she wrestled (she wound up being eliminated two matches later) but for how she didn’t.

This is stupid. I’m firmly in the camp of not putting a teenage girl in a choke hold as a way of respecting women.

“I couldn’t get focused,” she said of the swirl around her. “I finally had to find a quiet place to try to lock in.” Her coach took her cell phone away from her as well as Internet access, but it was all anybody here could talk about. Yes, she becomes the first girl in the 85-year history of the Iowa state wrestling tournament to win a match, but thanks to the Northrups, it’s forever splattered with all this.

I’m mad. The Northrups have a completely valid point. The kid didn’t want to wrestle a girl. There’s a reason that up until like 10 years ago, men and women didn’t mix in sports. They ARE different, no matter how butch a girl might be. It’s awkward for a teenage guy to wrestle a girl. On so many levels. You’re taught all your life not to hit girls, and then all of a sudden you’re supposed to twist them and yank at them and pin them down on a mat?


Neither he, nor his coaches, nor his dad, had any comment. He was reportedly on his way back home to Marion, Iowa, where his mom was about to deliver her eighth child.

For the kid’s sake, I hope it’s a boy.

You’re a douche, Reilly.


**UPDATE** By the way, some of the comments below are pretty good. Read them. A few say what, in my initial rage, didn’t explicate as well. It’s quite arrogant to bash a 16-year-old kid for his beliefs. Beliefs that didn’t hurt anyone, despite Reilly’s efforts to make it look like this has been some sort of horrible ordeal for the girl.

It’s a white-washed load of crap that pretends to be a logical and tolerant defense of the girl, but ends up being a painfully illogical, disrespectful, and intolerant slam on a 16 year-old kid.

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel permalink
    February 19, 2011 1:36 am

    Right on. Reilly’s piece is one the the most pompous, morally presumptuous pieces of crap I’ve read in a while. As a life long Des Moines resident, I can say that the prevailing point of view here is that both kids handled a difficult situation very well. While there is no firm consensus on whether girls should wrestle boys, most people here respect the fact that both parties stood up for their beliefs while refusing to condemn the other viewpoint.

    Additionally, I think it is irresponsible for Reilly to write a slam piece on a small town Iowa family trying to instill in their children a Christlike desire to respect women. These aren’t public figures like Sammy Sosa or Barry Bonds. This kind to scrutiny isn’t part of the deal of high school wrestling. The last sarcastic quip, implying that the Northrups are chauvinistic hillbillies, is hypocritical to say the least. The Northrup boy’s reverence for women was stronger than his desire for personal glory. That’s integrity. Whether you agree with his beliefs or not, that kind of sacrifice commands respect. This is a moral issue, shrouded in shades of gray, where reasonable minds can differ. Reilly’s close-minded, black and white approach to the issue is inconsistent with his pretentious air of progressive thinking. That kind of hubris, masquerading as enlightenment, is the root cause of the entrenchment that precludes any kind of meaningful dialogue on divisive social issues like these.

  2. Nick permalink
    February 19, 2011 12:04 pm

    After reading the article on ESPN, I had to try and find a blog to comment on it because of course they didn’t put one on their website. It was so arrogant and short sighted that it actually made me angry.

    “Remember, Northrup didn’t default on sexual grounds.” Like Reilly could have known this?? He said it went against his conscience! This article is coated with arrogance.

  3. Mike permalink
    February 19, 2011 3:16 pm

    This article is so arrogant. When I originally read this I got pretty fumed about the arrogance in the article, but what sent me over the edge was that last line:

    “He was reportedly on his way back home to Marion, Iowa, where his mom was about to deliver her eighth child.

    For the kid’s sake, I hope it’s a boy.”

    Really?? He’s bashing a 16 year old boy, taking a shot at his beliefs and bringing the mom into it all at once. Last time I checked that is not professional journalism, and ESPN should fire him on the spot for this. I’ve never read a more douche-bag line in a “professional article” in my entire life.. pathetic

  4. Pat D. permalink
    February 19, 2011 8:37 pm

    Great blog. Same as w/ Nick, had to find an outlet after reading that. Worst article I have ever seen on And I don’t really care if boys wrestle girls … just couldn’t believe someone could attack a 16 year old kid like that simply for acting on his conscience.

    My favorite part was when he blamed Joel for creating the media hurricane. This was amazing stretch of smoke and mirrors here: “When HE didn’t, IT created … SHE was surrounded by 20 of US …” I would hope the media is really the automatons Reilly makes them out to be here. “Must go hound 14 year old wrestler. Beep. Must go hound 14 year old wrestler. Beep.”

    Also enjoyed how he referred to the hero by their first name throughout and the villian by their last name.

    Just really ridiculous. First time I’ve ever been tempted to write a letter to their ombudsman. Know it wouldn’t help. Anyway … thanks!

    Pat D.

  5. February 19, 2011 9:27 pm

    “He was reportedly on his way back home to Marion, Iowa, where his mom was about to deliver her eighth child.
    For the kid’s sake, I hope it’s a boy.”

    This writer Reilly completely missed the entire point of the kid not wrestling the girl and then takes a pot shot at the kid and his family at the end of his article—-a 16 year old kid–a sophmore in high school who basically put himself in a tough position with one-loss at the start of the tournament to wrestle his way back all the way to a possible 3rd place finish–then the kid loses a heartbreaking 3-2 match—-no bitching from the kid he just ran off crying realizing all his dreams were dashed because he had a bad draw. Very disturbing article from Reilly and his BS agenda—-the chick loses both her matches she actually wrestles in and he attempts to destroy a 16 year old kid –shouldnt he take his chicken $h%# ass and cover the nba all star game or something? Millionaire babies can handle crticism in a national forum not a sophomore wrestling his butt off all year for a chance at greatness–the kid did the right thing—and now a limp wristed writer gets every opportunity to slam the kid—hope the kid changes his mind next year –kicks both chicks a$$es and wins the state championship–screw Reilly and screw the corporations he writes for

  6. DGN permalink
    February 20, 2011 9:20 pm

    Here’s my question….why does Reilly care? Some kid in Iowa doesn’t want to wrestle a girl, what difference does it make? I don’t agree with the kid, but he made his decision and paid the consequences. Reilly is just such a blowhard.

  7. Audrey McDonald permalink
    February 21, 2011 10:54 am

    Well, obviously the young man is the real victim here. He tried to be a hero, got all bashed over by the media, and didn’t get a chance at the medal. That young woman should be ashamed of herself, thinking she could compete with the boys! She should be at home, in a skirt, diligently cooking for the young men to eat after their tournament. She obviously has zero right to compete on the same level as the boys because she’s different and therefore could not possibly stand on equal ground to them in a wrestling match. She should be coddled and treated with kid gloves so she can produce many healthy babies starting when she’s 18 years old.

    Yeah, who’s the douche?

    • Daniel permalink
      February 21, 2011 11:26 am

      Using sarcastic intolerance to promote tolerance and equality? I can see why you like the Reilly article. Illogical on so many levels. Birds of a feather.

      • Audrey McDonald permalink
        February 21, 2011 11:33 am

        I don’t think you quite understand the words ‘logic’ and ‘illogical’.

    • Daniel permalink
      February 21, 2011 11:38 am

      Enlighten me.

      • Audrey McDonald permalink
        February 21, 2011 11:42 am

        Methinks that is quite impossible since agreeing with this bigoted, sexist author you prove yourself very unenlightened to begin with.

      • Daniel permalink
        February 21, 2011 1:04 pm

        I’m discriminating on the basis of logic. We all have to construe issues like these according to our wits, however, your argument is not rooted in logic and reflects a strong bias. Promoting tolerance while judgmentally dismissing other points of view is illogical and self-defeating. This is a very gray issue where reasonable people can come to very different, logically supported conclusion. It’s great to have an opinion arrived at through soul-searching and proper logic. However, acting like you have the final word on the moral merits of this issue is hubris.

        Looking at your post, it isn’t hard to see your thought process. You’ve used an intellectually lazy device to make the other side seem so ridiculous in your own mind that you can rationalize your own viewpoint without going to the trouble of assessing the merits of the other point of view. You have divided this issue into ‘us’(right) and ‘them’ (wrong). The proper way to arrive at the truth is to avoid labels and value judgments and confront the merits of the other side head on. It’s the only way to logically reinforce a belief.

        For the record, I would have wrestled the Herkelman girl if it meant a chance at a state title. She has proven that she has the ability to beat some boys, reflected by her 21-14 record, and earned her place at state with a runner-up finish at districts. However, I can’t condemn the Northrup boy for coming to the conclusion he came to and I sincerely respect his sacrifice. His reverence for women was stronger than his desire for personal glory. Whether you agree with his actions, his underlying rationale was nobel. I give more weight to the ‘why’ and less to the ‘how.’ Also, notice how both kids refused to judge each other. Pretty cool.

        Can you logically support your view here without the use of labels and value judgments? If so, you may help us out. Keep your mind open too, as you may actually learn something if you allow yourself to.

      • Audrey McDonald permalink
        February 21, 2011 3:58 pm

        Alright, if you insist.

        First, reductio ad absurdum is a logical argument to show the absurdity of a previous argument. This is the argument I employed. It does not require me to address the merits of the other point of view because there are no merits – the other point of view is ridiculous.

        Second, there is absolutely no reason for me to respect a religious choice simply because it is a religious choice and therefore somehow off limits to questioning. Religions, no matter what they are, get off Scott free, in whatever moral or ethical values they espouse. This does not hold for just Christianity. If he were a Muslim who felt that all women should be stuffed into burqas because he believes it is religiously ethical I would also disagree.

        Third, are you suggesting that if someone has a counter-argument to this they should show absolutely no bias one way or another? And you wonder why I question your understanding of logic. One cannot purport a viewpoint on something if one does not have a viewpoint on something, therefore it follows logically that I must have a bias towards something. Asking me to remove this just proves that you are just unable to argue against the point I was making. You simply let yourself fall into an ad hominem attack on me. You’ll also notice that my post was directed to the author of this article, not either teenager in the story.

        Why do you think that women should be revered? Women make up half the population. You want to revere half the population above the other half? Or by revering are you really making women less than men? Why do you feel that women want to be revered? Perhaps they just wanted to be treated the same, without special treatment or pedestals? Strange how all this talk of respecting and revering women really just comes off as condescending and degrading instead.

      • Daniel permalink
        February 21, 2011 6:01 pm

        First, you did not make a proper reductio ad absurdum argument because you have not shown, in any way shape or form, how girls not being allowed to wrestle with boys leads to women being religated to second class citizen status, good for only giving birth and being a maid. There is no process, just value judgments. Why is the proposition absurd? Because you say so? Did you have trouble showing your work in algebra or are you just unable to logically get to where you want to go? My guess is this is just an excuse to be intellectually lazy. It is illogical and makes you come across as incredibly arrogant.

        Second, you are entitled to disagree with someone’s beliefs. However, you absolutely should respect someone’s position on an issue where reasonable minds can differ. There is no tangible answer to this question. You aren’t God and your opinion isn’t the final word. What right to you have to judge? You can disagree, but do it respectfully and with an open mind. No one made any comment about religious exercise being beyond reproach. No one here would support poking elderly people with sticks for religious reasons, bombing abortion clinics, or refusing to serve African-Americans on the basis of race. That’s something you incorreclty deduced.

        Third, you should certainly abandon all prejudice and value judgments, to the greatest degree humanly possible, when forming an opinion on a moral issue. You are entitled to make counterpoints. However, can you really make much of a counterpoint when you stubbornly refuse to do your homework and assess the other point of view? If you don’t understand the argument, how can you refute it? You’ve made no attempt to understand the other side, why should the other side bother listening to you?

        Fourth, women absolutely should be revered. I treat my mom with great respect and hope others would do the same.
        Women are equal, but they are different. Do you really think women want to be treated the same as men, without any special treatment? If that’s so, let’s repeal Title IX and have one, gender neutral team, for every sport. What would the response to that be? Is that the kind of empowerment you want?

        Lastly, what did you hope to accomplish by posting on this blog? All you have done is made hypocritical, illogical value-judgments while refusing to even listen to another point of view. Even if you did have some good points to get across, why should anyone listen when you resort to calling them stupid, douche, bigot, and sexist? Were you hoping to enlighten somebody with your presence here? Are you just pissed off? Do you just want to show off your intelligence? I know you didn’t come here to learn anything. Why are you here?

        p.s. “methinks” is a word that was on its way out when Shakespeare was around. Its use in present day language comes across as extremely pretentious. Just saying.

    • Rick Reilly Sucks permalink
      October 22, 2013 1:58 am

      For the record he was the victim. He was the victim of hateful media. He was the victim of a men hating society, which blame men for all the problems we face today. He was a victim of Religious persecution. I could go on, just how much he was the victim. As far as the girl, she got a free win and the very media that she blames made her lose focus was on her side, seriously that is a stupid excuse. Men up and accept you lost and you’re going to work harder next year to win.

  8. Austin permalink
    February 21, 2011 12:27 pm

    Reilly is absolutely correct. Religion poisons everything. His father’s stupid religious idea screwed up the tournament up for both the girl and the boy. And the religites who laud him for it. Do they also laud the suicide nbombers for “being strong in their beliefs”? Try reason and leave the inconsistent illogical world of religion out of it.

    • February 21, 2011 3:15 pm

      Bad analogy. No, terrible analogy, on so many levels.

      Suicide bombing is an “affirmative” act, designed to actively inflict pain and damage upon others. Just like Reilly’s analogy of poking the elderly with sharp sticks. Both of those are generally viewed as morally-reprehensible acts. Northrup chose an act of omission. His action was to withdraw from the match. There is a difference. Try again.

    • Rick Reilly Sucks permalink
      October 22, 2013 1:53 am

      So how did it crew it up for her? Are you one of them blaming the boy for the girl going on to lose? It looks to me like she was weak-minded and let something get in her head. Good thing most real athletes over come mind games or sports would suck.

  9. Chris permalink
    February 21, 2011 2:11 pm

    I can’t take it anymore! Why do people keep reading Reilly’s articles?!! How can people be foolish enough to agree with him?!! If the girl was losing the match, could she claim sexual assault, get her opponent arrested, and win by default? That was neat how Audrey tried to sound smart by saying “Methinks.” Junior College is awesome! Austin

    • Audrey McDonald permalink
      February 21, 2011 4:03 pm

      You honestly believe that a girl in a wrestling match would claim sexual assault against an opponent who was beating her? Not only had this girl already been in 33 matches, but she lost 13 of them and not made such a ridiculous claim. On top of that, no one would take that kind of claim seriously. Your idea is stupid.

      Also, “methinks” is only a two syllable word. I could probably work my way up to four or five syllable words if you want, if you feel that this would prove intelligence better.

      • Rick Reilly Sucks permalink
        October 22, 2013 1:50 am

        The real question is do you honestly believe you can claim intelligence after posting all your garbage her? However you can claim hatred towards men/boys and blaming them for all your failures, sure, intelligence not a chance.

        Face it nature made men and women specialist in different fields of life. At times what we can do crosses lines with no diminishing in ability and at others there is a diminishing in ability. I personally don’t see either gender superior in life, but, only an idiot can’t see each gender is superior in some situations or roles.

        The thing that fires me up the most is all the females that diminish what men are superior at saying females are equal while keeping their view that women are still superior at what females excel at. It’s a horrible view point, is stupid, and nobody likes a hypocrite.

    • Hunter permalink
      April 7, 2012 7:22 pm

      No she can’t claim sexual assault bc she new what she was getting Into and she still chose to wrestle

  10. Bob Eicher permalink
    February 22, 2011 11:59 am

    Since when do religious men “believe in the elevation and respect of women”?

  11. Marty permalink
    February 22, 2011 9:38 pm

    Methinks Audrey is single…

  12. Cliff permalink
    February 23, 2011 11:11 am

    I completely agree with most sane minded individuals on this. I couldn’t believe the personal attacks on this kid and his family and faith. Reilly is pathetic.

  13. February 23, 2011 3:37 pm

    The real thing that bugs me is that Rick used to be a great writer. The story he wrote, wrestling with demons, about a wrestler who had to kill his father to protect him and his brother helped inspire me to get into journalism. I am now a sportswriter at a small newspaper in Western Pennsylvania.

    But to attack a 16-year-old boy for his beliefs is beyond disrespectful. He didn’t want to wrestle a girl, so what? He’s 16. I’m sure that he didn’t want the national media questioning him.

    I wish Rick would get back to his roots, finding human interest stories and knock it off with these opinion pieces.

  14. February 25, 2011 10:49 am

    Since ESPN’s Rick Reilly Mailbag is conveniently broken, I’ll post my reaction here, if you all don’t mind.

    Re: Wrestling with conviction

    OK, Rick, I’ve resisted the urge to call you a bunch of inflammatory names. I’m going to try to explain why I think you’re wrong without appealing to emotion. I think you’ve unfairly smeared Joel Northrup in this article. I understand it’s your job as a commentator, to be sensational and generate ersatz controversy in your columns, but you’ve gone over the line here.

    Based upon the link text to the article, (which you may or may not create) “Wrestling and religion don’t mix,” I would have assumed that the High School wrestling governing body in Des Moines, Iowa was not allowing Cassey to wrestle based on some established religious tenet in that jurisdiction. In that case, you would have been absolutely right to criticize.

    On the contrary this was a personal choice that Joel made based on a deeply held personal belief, which–to be frank–is none of your damn business. Asking him to act in contradiction to his world view is no different than asking a vegan to throw some bacon on that soy burger, or asking BYU to play a game on a Sunday.

    I’m sure Joel, and his family who you also indict unfairly, would find some of your personally held views to be obtuse as well, but you won’t be hearing from them because they’re infinitely more tolerant than you.

    In the same way Joel chose not to wrestle a girl, you should have chose not to libel a 16-year-old boy and his family. In short, because I simply can’t resist the urge, shame on you.

  15. David Gillaspie permalink
    February 26, 2011 12:36 pm

    After the forfeit and the attention fades a little, you end up with a wrestling match. Rick Reilly took aim with his response, but is it fair? Probably not, so I put Rick on the mat with another Iowa girl wrestler so he’d know more about the subject.

    Would Rick forfeit his match? It would be a good idea after the whomping he gets here:

  16. boyd permalink
    March 26, 2011 4:55 pm

    Girls should not wrestle boys

  17. boyd permalink
    March 26, 2011 4:55 pm

    Reilly’s a moron

    • Rick Reilly Sucks permalink
      October 22, 2013 2:00 am

      Boyd for President!

  18. Rick Reilly permalink
    May 30, 2011 11:36 am

    Guys, this is ridiculous. I’m entitled to my opinion and you’re entitled to yours. I feel bad for Cassy, because to her, a dedicated athlete, this must seem like a cheap victory. Just think about that.

    • Rick Reilly Sucks permalink
      October 22, 2013 1:33 am

      What was rediculous is the poor kid that’s only choice to keep his views was to forfeit the match. So the “victory” was so cheap that it caused her to lose? I question her dedication when something this simple “causes” her to lose focus. I personally believe she never stood a chance to win and now her supporters are blamnig the male for her failure.

      Also, on “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.” How about the Herkelman respecting the Northrups by not wrestling the boy? I mean did anybody ask or care that maybe some boys find it offensive to wrestle girls?

      Why is it so many females and metrosexuals think they can have their cake, eat it too, and still take the cake of men? I’m so tired of the men bashing and hating by the so called “equal rights” movement club. Seriously you want to see real sexism, look no farther then the Criminal Justice System treatment of males vs females. Just think about that next time you want to try to make something sexiest that is not.

  19. Hunter permalink
    April 7, 2012 7:17 pm

    It simply makes no sence for girls to not be allowed to wrestle boys I respect his decision to forfeit im a christian and I find it in no way inappropriate for a girl that wants to wrestle boys to wrestle. Due to the fact that there aren’t enough girls wrestling to have there own teams they should be given the same rights as boys and that is the right to wrestle

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