[Samantha Pell | The Washington Post] To Brendan Johnston, it was a simple choice. The 18-year-old senior wrestler from The Classical Academy in Colorado had never competed against a girl, and faced with the option to do so and potentially move one round closer to his goal of winning a state title, he instead decided to forfeit.
For one of the two would-be female opponents Johnston refused to face in the Colorado state wrestling championships last weekend, it was a frustrating outcome. She said she understood and respected his decision but questioned why any wrestler, of any gender, would decide to forfeit in the state tournament after making it so far. Johnston cited personal and religious beliefs for not wanting to wrestle a girl.
“My whole thing is that I’m not a girl wrestler; I’m just a wrestler,” said Jaslynn Gallegos, a senior at Skyview High. “So it kind of doesn’t hurt my feelings, but I do kind of take it to heart.”
In a situation that got national attention, Johnston’s refusal to wrestle a female competitor disappointed and frustrated many at a time when girls’ participation in the sport continues to rise across the country. While incidents such as these are rare, it’s a scenario that is being confronted more frequently with the growth of women’s wrestling.
“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,” said Johnston, who identifies as Christian and said he attends the International Anglican Church in Colorado Springs. “And a part of that does come from how I was raised to treat women as well as maybe from different experiences and things.”
Johnston, who has never wrestled a girl since he picked up the sport in seventh grade, has said that the physical aggression required in wrestling isn’t something he’s comfortable showing toward a girl, on or off the mat. He declined to wrestle Gallegos in the first round of the state tournament in the Class 3A 106-pound bracket. He then decided to forfeit against Angel Rios, a junior at Valley High, in the third round of consolations, effectively ending his high school wrestling career.
[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Samantha Pell and originally published at The Washington Post. Title changed by P&P.]