In what some might consider a controversial move, an 18-year-old high school wrestler forfeited not one but two state tournament matches after seeing who he was going to be up against. The decision ended his high school wrestling career and disappointed his opponent, but was it the right thing to do?
At the young age of 18, Brendan Johnston, a Colorado high school wrestler, learned that a large degree of respect can be earned by sticking to your beliefs and sacrificing something in the name of your faith. That’s exactly what the young man did in 2019 when he forfeited two state tournament matches when he saw who he was going up against, ending his high school career in the sport, the Daily Mail reported.
Initially, Johnston, who was a senior at the Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, pulled out of his match against Skyview High senior Jaslynn Gallegos in the first round of the tournament because his opponent was a girl. Then, in his third-round consolation match in the Colorado State wrestling meet in Denver, he decided against fighting Valley High junior Angel Rios for the same reason. Instead, he shook Rios’ hand after forfeiting their match.
Brendan, who is a Christian and had not wrestled a female since starting the sport in seventh grade, explained that he simply didn’t feel right wrestling girls due to both his religious and personal beliefs, choosing to end his high school wrestling career rather than sacrifice his convictions.
“It’s so physical, physically close. I don’t think that’s really appropriate with a young lady. It’s also very aggressive and I’m not really, I guess, comfortable with that,” Brendan told KDVR. “There is something that I really do find problematic about the idea of wrestling with a girl, and a part of that does come from my faith and my belief,” he admitted. “And a part of that does come from how I was raised to treat women as well as maybe from different experiences and things.”
Even though Brendan wasn’t comfortable wrestling a female, he said that he still believed women and men were equals. “I don’t think that I am looking at them as not equal. I am saying that they are women and that is different than being men because I do believe that men and women are different and we are made differently,” he explained. “But I still believe that women are of equal value to men. I don’t think that seeing men and women as different [opposes] the idea of equality.”
Brendan said he took umbrage with the idea of wrestling against girls for another reason as well. “And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a young lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort that she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do, either,” he told The Denver Post. “Wrestling is something we do, it’s not who we are. And there are more important things to me than my wrestling. And I’m willing to have those priorities.”
Of course, Brendan’s decision sparked debate, such as the one seen in the clip below from 11Alive. While a lot of people could understand a boy’s discomfort in being so physical with a girl and also understood his fear of hurting her, others could see that even saying such a thing could spark upset in today’s politically correct climate.
However, one could argue that all’s well that ends well. And, Angel Rios, who came in fourth, and Jaslynn Gallegos, who came in fifth, went on to become the first females to place at the tournament. Yet, the achievement seemed somewhat bittersweet for Gallegos because of Brendan Johnston’s decision.
“This whole time that I’ve wrestled, it’s just me trying to prove a point that I am just a wrestler,” Gallegos, who started wrestling when she was five, told The Washington Post. “And so the fact that my gender is something that kind of holds me back still is just a little nerve-racking, but I respect his decision. It’s fine,” she continued. “My whole thing is that I’m not a girl wrestler; I’m just a wrestler. So it kind of doesn’t hurt my feelings, but I do kind of take it to heart.”
Unfortunately for the female athletes, the fact remains that they are girls, and Brendan Johnston isn’t alone in his beliefs and feelings. The subject of pitting males against females in physical competition is discussed more often now than perhaps ever before, and for the most part, people seem to believe that, because of biological differences, it’s unfair to make men and women go head to head since it doesn’t make for an even playing field. Regardless of who agrees, Brendan Johnston stood behind his convictions, accepting the loss rather than losing his religion. To me, that’s worthy of applause.