Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday's Musings on Sports - The Wrestler With a Conscience

As regular readers of this blog are aware, the Monday post was usually devoted to sports with highlights and analysis of the Max Kellerman show which formerly aired on 1050 ESPN Radio. Although Max resigned from 1050 more than a year ago (he has recently resurfaced on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles), I have tried to continue the tradition of linking sports to Torah which I believe was an undercurrent of the Max Kellerman show.

You probably have never heard the names Cassy Herkelman or Joel Northrup, but the story of how their paths did not cross is quite remarkable and worthy of attention.

Northrup is a home schooled sophomore who competes in high school athletics and wrestles for Linn-Mar High School in Iowa. This year, Northrup compiled a record of 35-4 and qualified for the Iowa High School Wrestling Championship in the 112 pound weight class. Newspaper reports speculated that Northrup could have competed for the title in his weight class. Herkelman who was scheduled to be Northrup's first round opponent had a record of 20-13 and was a year younger than Northrup. While this could have been Northrup's first step towards the title, Northrup never got on the mat and did not wrestle with Herkelman.

As Northrup explained in a statement "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."

Northrup's father is a minister in a Pentecostal church in Marion, Iowa. As explained by their pastor, the church believes young men and women shouldn't touch in a "familiar way." The pastor further explained "[w]e believe in the elevation and respect of woman and we don't think that wrestling a woman is the right thing to do. Body slamming and takedowns, that full contact sport is not how to do that."

[To read more about this story click the following link]

As an NCSY advisor in Central and Southern New Jersey for eight years, I was often asked by kids who were becoming religious about the concept of shomer negiah - the popular phrase which signifies that the person does not touch people of the opposite gender. Often times, kids who were looking for their Jewish identity would learn that they could no longer have friendly contact with their male/female friends who they had close friendships with. For many of these hormone raging teenagers, it was difficult enough to avoid meaningful contact with their boyfriend/girlfriend. The greater challenge was understanding that Judaism had created this fence to prevent them from being "too familiar" with others in order to protect them from their own normal urges.

Kudos to the kid from Iowa who was willing to sacrifice his dream of competing for a state championship if it meant wrestling with a girl.

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