Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the ACLU, the National Women’s Law Center and the Women’s Sports Foundation sent a letter to the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) urging it to change its discriminatory policy that prohibits women, like University of Michigan-Dearborn student and national wrestling champion Marina Goocher, from competing against male wrestlers when women wrestlers and women’s teams are unavailable.
“Ever since I can remember, wrestling has been a central part of my life and my identity. When I enrolled in college, the wrestling coach and the wrestlers, all of whom were men, warmly welcomed me because they knew I could help the team win. But right now, as the wrestling season begins, I have to sit on the bench the entire regular season — simply because I am a woman,” said Goocher.
The NCWA governs club wrestling in college and under its current rule Goocher is only allowed to compete against other women. UM-Dearborn does not have a women’s team, and there are no other women wrestlers in her weight class in the entire Midwest region of the NCWA. Unless NCWA changes its policy and Goocher is able to compete against men, she won’t be able to compete for the entire season.
The UM-Dearborn men’s coach wants her to wrestle during the season with his team, and the team wants her to as well, but the NCWA rule prevents her from being able to. The only opportunity the NCWA gives Goocher to participate is in the women’s division of the post-season national club tournament, a tournament she has won the past two years. The letter maintains that the NCWA’s rule is discriminatory and opens up its member schools to legal liability.
“Women should be encouraged to compete in sports that they love and not be denied access just because they are women,” said Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio, staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan. “NCWA’s rule is based on antiquated and unfair gender stereotypes which courts across the country have struck down as discriminatory. By limiting Marina and other women wrestlers from competing, the NCWA is exposing member schools to potential lawsuits by forcing them to discriminate.”
In high school, Goocher surpassed 100 varsity career wins, all against males — a rare accomplishment for high school wrestlers, regardless of gender. She has earned four girls’ wrestling titles in her weight division from high school or younger, and two women’s titles in college, when she was able to wrestle women from teams outside her region.
High schools across the country allow women to wrestle men when there is no women’s wrestling team, and so does the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Numerous prominent women athletes have successfully wrestled on men’s college teams and competed alongside their teammates, many of them defeating their male opponents. These include Olympian Kelsey Campbell (Arizona State), Olympic silver medalists Patricia Adura-Miranda (Stanford) and Sara McMann (Lock Haven University), World medalists Jenny Wong (Lock Haven), Jackie Berube (University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse), Debbie Weiss (Arizona State) and Afsoon Roshanzamir (UC-Davis), and World Team members Erin Tomeo (Lock Haven), Lauren Wolfe (Cornell), and Jenna Pavlik (Lock Haven).