A Colorado high school wrestler made headlines when he decided to forfeit two state tournament matches against female opponents, citing his religious and personal beliefs as the primary reason for his decision.
Brendan Johnston, an 18-year-old senior from the Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, withdrew from his first-round match against Skyview High senior Jaslynn Gallegos during the recent state tournament. He then made a similar choice in his third-round consolation match against junior Angel Rios from Valley High, effectively concluding his high school wrestling career.
Johnston, who identifies as a Christian, expressed his reservations about the physical nature of wrestling against female competitors. In an interview with KDVR, he stated, “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.”
He clarified that his decision stemmed from a complex interplay of his faith, upbringing, and personal experiences. Brendan emphasized that he didn’t perceive female wrestlers as unequal but rather recognized that men and women are inherently different and should be treated as such. He maintained that acknowledging these differences does not contradict the idea of equality between the sexes.
Remarkably, Brendan had not faced a female opponent since he began wrestling in seventh grade, despite the fact that wrestling is not officially sanctioned as a sport in Colorado. He conveyed his reluctance to engage in the physical aggression associated with the sport when competing against a female, both on and off the mat. He was determined not to disrespect the dedication and effort female wrestlers put into their matches. Brendan stressed that wrestling was an activity they engaged in, not a definition of who they were. He added that other priorities in life held greater significance to him.
Angel Rios and Jaslynn Gallegos, who secured fourth and fifth place respectively, made history as the first females to place at the tournament. Gallegos, who began wrestling at the age of five, expressed understanding and respect for Brendan’s decision, emphasizing that she saw herself as a wrestler rather than a “girl wrestler.” While she acknowledged that her gender could still be a limiting factor, she did not take offense to Brendan’s choice.
The incident has sparked discussions about the intersection of sports, gender, and individual beliefs. As this conversation continues, it is important to find ways to respect personal choices while addressing gender-related challenges in the realm of sports.