All This National Champion Wrestler Wants Is a Chance to Compete

UPDATE: On March 10, 2018, Marina Goocher won her third collegiate national championship and seventh national title overall, defeating Kendal Davis of Colorado State University at the NCWA National Wrestling Championships in Texas.  

Marina Goocher just wants an equal opportunity to wrestle in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. The NCWA’s response: Build your own women’s team.

Goocher, a national champion college wrestler in her junior year, is a favorite to win another national championship in a few days. Yet she has been benched for the entire last three regular seasons in her wrestling league, the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA). Despite the male team at University of Michigan-Dearborn having abundant opportunities to train and attend NCWA competitions throughout the season, NCWA rules prohibit Marina from wrestling.

The problem: Not only are there no other women on Marina’s college team, there are also no other women wrestlers in the entire Midwest conference. The NCWA says women in Marina’s position can’t compete or practice with men on her team — even if it means she has to sit out the entire season.

All Marina wants is a chance on the mat. So she called on the ACLU and its partners for help. Along with the National Women’s Law Center and the Women’s Sports Foundation, the ACLU wrote a letter in October last year to the NCWA urging it “to change the rules of the college-level club wrestling association” so Goocher can compete against male wrestlers during the regular club wrestling season.

The letter explains that the NCWA deprives Marina of an equal opportunity to wrestle, which is both discriminatory and opens up NCWA member schools to liability. The NCWA’s response: too bad. It then NCWA accused Marina of laziness.

“It seems as though Ms. Goocher has been content to do nothing,” the NCWA wrote in November, “instead expecting the competition to come to her, and demanding other individuals do the hard work it takes to build a competitive clubs team program.”

The NCWA’s response to Marina deflects attention away from its mission as a national organization founded to create equitable opportunities for all of its wrestlers regardless of their gender. Instead, it blames one of its star athletes for her predicament. It is simply unfair to say women collegiate wrestlers bear the sole burden of ensuring women have equal opportunities as men in a wrestling association with such broad reach and resources.

And even if Marina could recruit, train, and develop a full women’s team at her university, who would this hypothetical women’s team compete against? There are no other women’s teams in their conference, and the NCWA rules prohibit them from wrestling male teams.

To be clear, Marina’s case is not about women wanting to wrestle men. It is about having an equal opportunity to compete against the competition available to you. None of the opportunities the NCWA puts forth as alternatives for Marina is actually equivalent.

For example, the NCWA listed nine events which Marina could have chosen to attend. None of them are NCWA competitions. Rather they are open competitions where anyone can attend regardless of age or ability. Marina, remember, is a national champion.

Furthermore, only two of the open tournaments are located in Michigan and the remaining tournaments would require her to travel as far as Minnesota, South Dakota, or Wisconsin. Essentially, if Marina were forced to pursue these alternative “opportunities,” as the NCWA puts it, she would have to expend exponentially more resources and time than her male teammates to travel across the country every weekend. This is not exactly the definition of equal.

The NCWA has even gone so far as to criticize Marina for choosing to attend UM-Dearborn instead of other institutions that may have larger women’s teams. Again, the NCWA can’t wiggle out of its obligation to provide equal opportunities to both men and women by putting the onus on individual students to attend schools that have women’s teams. Marina had plenty of reasons to attend U-M Dearborn, like its engineering program, and the NCWA should ensure that female athletes have equal opportunities to wrestle no matter where they choose to attend college.

As the ACLU, WSF, and NWLC have explained in response, Marina’s objective is to ensure that women and men have equal time on the mat until the sport of wrestling recruits and engages more women. But until there are enough women’s teams to create equal opportunities for women wrestlers, Marina, and women like her, must be given a chance to compete against men for a spot on the school wrestling team and compete in matches against men during the regular season. Anything less is discriminatory and wrong.

You can stand up for Marina and the rights of all women athletes by telling the NCWA to change its discriminatory policies. Join us in telling the NCWA to update its antiquated, gendered rules and stop denying Marina Goocher her right to compete in wrestling this season.

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Anonymous

I have been a wrestler for three years and have seen many girls get beat very badly by boys and injured also. I saw a boy go to slam a girl but set her down on the ground as not to hurt her. It's not like women aren't allowed to wrestle, they just can't wrestle men. This is not unfair. What would happen if a woman would try to play in the NFL. It is just scientifically proven that men are stronger. Men's bodies are more muscular. This is not sexist it is science.

Anonymous

If she wanted to wrestle in collage, she should’ve gone to a collage that has woman’s wrestling. When you pick a collage to attend, you pick one with the major you want to study and the sport you want to play.

Anonymous

I believe you meant “college,” not “collage.” I learned to spell in elementary school.

Anonymous

This is a question of the insurance the NCWA carries. If Miss. Groocher were allowed to wrestle men, that would violate the terms of their policy making it void. If they were to get one that allowed her to wrestle men that would increase the price of their premiums which would be passed on to the wrestlers through their dues (the NCWA here no funding from schools or government agencies) potentially jeopardizing the ability of other wrestlers to participate.

Litch

So you're saying thier bigoted choice in insurance policies they chose to buy should be a valid reason for denying her right to equal access? They can purchase a rider or negotiate a new insurance contract that allows them to fulfill their moral, ethical, and legal duties.

Anonymous

What you’re saying is that it’s ok to make it difficult or impossible for her to compete, as long as the male students don’t have the same inconvenience?

Anonymous

Sorry ACLU, but you're on the wrong side of this one. All of the NCWA's responses were reasonable. She should have chosen a school with a women's wrestling team if that was important to her. The open competitions that they recommended for her are all a reasonable distance away from Michigan. You act like a college athlete traveling to neighboring states is unheard of. You state "It is about having an equal opportunity to compete against the competition available to you." She has that. It's on her that she chose a school where the competition available to her is little to none. Wrestling is a violent sport. Decent men don't have any desire to rough up women. It's unethical for you to use litigation to force decent men into a position where they have to be violent against women. What you're doing is wrong, and as a strong supporter of the efforts of the ACLU, I'm saddened that you can't see that.

An Ominous

There were usually a handful of girl wrestlers in my weight class in high school. That did not matter; I went out onto the mat and wrestled to the best of my abilities. Why? It boils down to respect. Going easy on them would be a slap in the face. By not taking the match seriously, I would not be taking THEM seriously. I would be telling them that I don't consider them enough of a threat to worry about. I would be spitting on their hard work, telling them I don't think their efforts are worthwhile, or that they don't work as hard as I do.

My older sister mostly wrestled boys throughout her high school career. She made a lot of them cry, especially the ones who didn't take her seriously. To this day, she holds the school record for most wins in a single weight class (89).

GRMells

Maybe I am reading this wrong but it seems to me that in the pre-Trump era this is something the Dept of Education would have pursued as a Title 9 violation. But don't hold your breath for government action now.

Anonymous

Ms. Kitaba-Gaviglio' article is correct in saying this "case is not about women wanting to wrestle men." It is also not about discrimination. What it is about, is the ACLU using this young lady as a fund raising tool. By deceiving her into the belief they are on her side in changeing women's wrestling the ACLU is more guilty of discrimination than they obviously understand. What a pity we have our donated dollars supporting these misguided missions to erase nonexistent causes.

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