Wrestling a Cynic

male in a brown singlet on gradiated blue background

male in a brown singlet on gradiated blue background

Since I was young, I have read nearly every column by award-winning sportswriter Rick Reilly.  His February 19th column will be my last.

Growing up, I eagerly awaited each new edition of Sports Illustrated.  When it arrived, I was the first in my family to grab it.  For me it was like it was like opening a present.  I would immediately open to the back page where Rick Reilly’s column was waiting.  It was always waiting with a beautiful picture, and it was spun with precise and poignant language.  Reilly possesses the unique ability to transport the reader from a passive observer to an active participant.  Soon, the reader has a vested interest in the topic and is forced to cheer, yell, cry, or any combination of the three.

In 2008, Reilly moved from Sports Illustrated to ESPN.com.  After a while, his vivid tomes turned into petty liberal rants typical of many ESPN.com commentary writers.

Reilly once used his columns to inspire and shine a light on little told stories.  Now he panders to far-left elitists that live in neighboring ivory towers.   Reilly’s columns were a large part of my adolescence.  That is what makes this a sad adieu.

February 17th was the first day of the Iowa State high school wrestling tournament.  A big deal in the Midwest, the tournament is aired on local television.  The focus of the meet was not on a great overtime match or a dramatic last second fall, rather, all eyes were on a match that did not happen.

Joel Northrup, the state’s 5th-ranked 112 lb. wrestler, decided not to wrestle his first round match.  Instead, Northrup forfeited to Cassy Herkelman, one of two female grapplers that advanced to the state tournament, and thereby gave-up his chance for a state title.

In a statement Northrup explained:

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Cassy … However, 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.

His mature and thoughtful explanation was more than satisfactory for Cassy Herkelman’s family.  Cassy’s father extolled the Northup family saying:

That’s their belief, and I praise them for sticking to it. This is the biggest stage in wrestling in the state, I would say, and they stuck to their beliefs when it probably tested it the most … It was probably a tough pill for him to swallow.

It seems every actor in this story performed with humility and grace, except for Rick Reilly.

Reilly savagely attacked Northrup for being a chauvinist and a coward.  Reilly even attacked Northrup’s Christian principles when he opined:

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?

This is beyond the pale.  One wonders what role Northrup’s Christianity played in Reilly’s twisted logic since the young man is hardly the first athlete who refused to compete because of religious beliefs.

In 1965, future hall of fame pitcher Sandy Koufax famously declined to pitch the first game of the World Series. The game was played on Yom Kippur, and Koufax, who is Jewish, chose to honor his religion’s holy day.  Would Reilly have scoured Koufax’s decision and questioned his convictions?

The other girl to advance to the state meet, Megan Black, also respected Northrup’s decision to not wrestle, saying, “It’s his religion and he’s strong in his religion … You have to respect him for that.”  You do unless your name is Rick Reilly.

Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center, also took issue with Reilly’s cynicism.  In a recent column Bozell points out:

Sadly, you knew some ink-stained wretch would think Northrup’s decision was sexist, demeaning and religiously obtuse. Enter ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly, who slammed anyone and everyone who respected this moral decision.

Bozell continues,

The ESPN columnist ended this sneering diatribe by suggesting this 16-year-old boy ‘wasted’ his dream of a championship and was just uncomfortable with girls being on Earth. After Northrup was eliminated in an overtime match, Reilly wrote, ‘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.’

For the sake of the sports reading public, I hope Reilly retires his typewriter.

I wrestled for three seasons at a Christian high school in the Midwest.  I can attest that the competition is fierce and Northrup’s decision surely weighed heavily on the young man.  However, the power of his faith and his conviction allowed him to make the right decision for himself.

Reilly elevated his far-left opinion over the subject of his story.  Perhaps, if Reilly learns the humility of 16 year-old Joel Northrup, or the grace of 14 year-old Cassy Herkelman, he can once again write inspirational narratives.  Until then, his work is not worth reading.

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