Joel Northrup, a 16-year-old Iowa wrestler, created a stir last week at the state wrestling tournament when he forfeited a match against 14-year-old female opponent, Cassy Herkelman, for reasons related to his convictions about how women should be treated. Some admire his willingness to make a decision in line with his values, others say it was sexist and wrong. Regardless of your stance, we can learn some helpful lessons about decision-making from Joel.
Be True to Yourself
Although Joel discussed this situation with his family for the two days between receiving the pairings and the first-round match, his parents left the final decision up to him. “Joel made the decision that he felt was the right decision,” his father, Jamie Northrup stated. “And it aligned with his beliefs and his values and conscience.”
As leaders, we face daily decisions that test our beliefs, values and conscience. At the end of the day, we must look ourselves in the mirror and determine if we stayed true to ourselves or if we wavered under the pressure of public opinion.
Though the emotions that go with these kinds of decisions can feel like a roller coaster, staying true to our beliefs will, in the end, bring us peace of mind. Joel likely has that kind of peace today because he stayed true to himself.
Leaders make lots of decisions, but communicating the decision can be more important than the decision itself. As we know, communication is not just what we say, but how we say it.
Joel showed total respect for his opponent in his statement regarding his decision:
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for [Cassy] and [Ottumwa’s Megan Black, the other state qualifier] and their accomplishments. 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 is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other High School sports in Iowa.”
Refreshing, isn’t it? Thankfully he didn’t take his cues from the many college and pro athletes who make news by degrading their opponents. He didn’t say that females shouldn’t be allowed to wrestle, just that he wouldn’t wrestle them.
Everyone wants to be respected. When we, as leaders and decision-makers, show and communicate respect, it will be returned to us.
Choose Honor Over Fame
Joel was 35-4 and ranked fifth in the state in the 112-pound division. With the forfeit, he lessened his chance to win a coveted Iowa state championship. This makes his decision all the more extraordinary.
The opportunity for fame can easily sway us from values-based decision-making. Will fame or success taste as sweet if we’ve disregarded our core values along the way? Doubtful.
Joel kept the big picture in mind, recognizing that while fame lasts for a moment, honor lasts a lifetime. His ability to step out of the moment and base his decision on the long-term shows maturity beyond his years.
All leaders want to make sound decisions. Though every leader will make mistakes along the way, Joel reminds us that staying true to ourselves, showing respect for others and choosing honor over fame gives us the best chance of making good decisions. And that’s why, in my book, Joel Northrup is a winner.