PEORIA, Ariz. — A Peoria police sergeant who is a former wrestling official wants the organization that governs Arizona high school wrestling to amend its rules to address a controversial move he said amounts to sexual assault.
“I think that if parents and coaches were educated that this is a crime and this could be prosecuted, then it would stop,” said Sgt. Marcel Spaulding.
Debate about “the oil check” and “the butt drag”
Referred to as “the oil check," the move involves a wrestler driving one or more fingers into the anus of the other wrestler as a means to shock, subdue, or gain leverage. YouTube videos document instances of the oil check and high school wrestlers tell stories about it on social media.
Arizona state laws prohibit “knowingly… touching or penetrating” the anus underneath or above clothing.
There is debate about how often “the oil check” occurs and whether such a rule is enforceable during the commotion of a wrestling match. Referees and coaches tell 12 News “the oil check” is not common and is often confused with the legal “butt drag” maneuver which involves the wrestler grabbing the broader area of the buttocks.
“It is very difficult to prove because in wrestling there’s a lot of physical contact,” said Mark Panepinto, Wrestling Rules Interpreter for the Arizona Interscholastic Association. “It has to have that assault aspect to it.”
But Spaulding said the AIA needs to take allegations of “the oil check” more seriously because it’s likely more common than people assume.
“Coming from a wrestling background if you grab or touch something you are not supposed to you are going to immediately let it go,” Spaulding said. “These are very deliberate acts and they are taught by coaches or wherever they get it from, but it’s not an accident.”
Spaulding said the AIA needs to specify the violation in its rule book, develop a written protocol on how to respond, and do a better job informing athletic directors, coaches, and referees about the seriousness of the act.
“Parents in different sports go, ‘well that’s part of the game, that’s part of the game.' For me, unfortunately, being sexually assaulted is not part of the game,” Spaulding said.
A mother and son traumatized
Spaulding spent 12 years as a referee for the AIA but he recently stopped after he said he witnessed “the oil check” in a crucial match. Spaulding was not the referee in the match but was observing from the sidelines. The acting referee did not call a penalty.
“After the match, I consulted one of the senior referees and he said ‘well it’s really not in the rule book,'” Spaulding said. “It prompted me to ask questions.”
According to the coach of the alleged victim, this was the third time the opposing wrestler had used the move against the wrestler during a match. The mother of the alleged victim spoke to 12 News and asked her name be withheld. She wants the AIA to reform its rules.
“I was so upset. He was upset. It affected him emotionally for a long time,” she said. “No child, male or female, competing in any sport gives consent to have their anus penetrated. And the AIA needs to take this seriously and update the rules.”
The father of the alleged perpetrator tells 12 News his son applied the legal “butt drag” and disputes his son did anything against the rules, let alone illegal.
As a law enforcement official and a “mandatory reporter," Spaulding said he’s not comfortable refereeing another match until the AIA takes concrete steps to develop a protocol on dealing with future alleged violations.
No written rule in high school wrestling
The Wrestling Rules Book used by high schools across the country does not mention penetrating the anus as a violation. Other acts like pulling hair, poking the eyes and biting are specifically prohibited. Even the more violent sport of UFC has a rule against “intentionally placing the finger into any orifice.”
A representative of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) tells 12 News there’s no need to identify “the oil check” as a violation in its rule book because it’s assumed to fall under the definition of a “flagrant violation.”
“The spirit of a rule most certainly would get you to where you need to be to penalize that move if you see it,” said Elliot Hopkins, Director of Sports Sanctioning and Student Services at the NFHS.
According to NFHS rules, “Flagrant misconduct involves… any act considered by the referee to be serious enough to disqualify a contestant from the match,” the book states. “Any hold/maneuver used for punishment” is also not allowed.
AIA: A new rule “doesn’t make sense”
The AIA’s position is the rule book does not need to be changed and referees are trusted to make the call if they see it.
“The 'butt drag' is a legal move but when we get to the oil check, now we have another story,” said Brian Gessner, Arizona State Commissioner of AIA officials. “If it’s (“the oil check”) ever witnessed by an official the match is suspended, the player is ejected and it’s taken up by authorities. It’s sexual assault.”
There’s no evidence an AIA official has ever punished a wrestler to that degree. Gessner said during his five years as commissioner, he’s never had an official complaint about “the oil check” reach his desk.
“The challenge here is of the guys that I’ve spoken to in my wrestling leadership, they’ve never seen it. There’s been four or five times that someone’s complained about it so to have a rule to enforce something that just rarely if ever happens, it just doesn’t make sense,” Gessner said.
The mother of the alleged victim who spoke with 12 News said she believes complaints aren’t elevated because there could be shame and embarrassment around the issue for some wrestlers.
“I think boys are looked at to suck it up. It’s part of sports. Don’t worry about it,” she said.
Spaulding created a PowerPoint presentation for the AIA about the issue and briefed West Valley wrestling coaches and athletic directors.
He said AIA officials who witness a violation should fill out a police report and a plain-clothes police officer should meet with the alleged offender on a separate occasion to conduct an investigation.
“We’re not going to run out on the mat and put the kid in handcuffs,” Spaulding said.
After Spaulding contacted the AIA two years ago, The AIA briefed coaches and referees to be on the lookout for violations of “the oil check," Gessner said.
“In our rules committee, we do talk about certain moves that are potentially dangerous and potentially illegal. I do believe that conversation is appropriate. We’ve talked about it. We can only call it as we see it. It would be extremely challenging to identify if it’s really happened,” Gessner said.
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