New Jersey Referee Suspended After Forcing Black Wrestler to Cut Dreadlocks
The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights is investigating an incident at a high school wrestling match this week in which a referee told a black wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit the match.
A New Jersey high school referee, Alan Maloney, was suspended after a video showed a black wrestler being compelled to have his hair cut before a bout after being told he would have to forfeit the match if he refused as “his hair and headgear were not in compliance with league regulations,” state athletic officials said on Saturday.
According to a letter from the school district Superintendent David Cappuccio Jr., the wrestler chose to have his hair cut rather than forfeit the match.
The clip of the Buena Regional High School varsity wrestler having his dreadlocks cut off went viral on Friday after it was uploaded on Twitter on Thursday by a reporter from SNJ Today newspaper.
The video showed Andrew Johnson of Buena Regional High School in Buena, New Jersey, getting his dreadlocks cut by a faculty member.
Black High School Wrestler Andrew Johnson was about to compete for Buena Regional H.S. in New Jersey and was wearing a cover over his dreads when racist referee Alan Maloney told him he had to cut his hair or forfeit the match. @NewJerseyDOE better fire this Ref IMMEDIATELY! pic.twitter.com/akgTBX7ITL— Anthony Beckford???????? (@Vote4Beckford) December 21, 2018
Moments later, Johnson defeated his opponent.
It was not immediately clear which rule the referee said the wrestler had violated. According to the NFHS wrestling rule book, a wrestler’s hair cannot fall below the top of a shirt collar in the back, below his earlobes on the sides, or below his eyebrows. If it is longer than the rule allows, the wrestler has to braid his hair or hide it beneath a hair cover attached to his ear guards, the rulebook states.
In a statement Friday night, a spokeswoman for the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said its civil rights division opened an investigation into the incident as part of a 2013 agreement with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) “to address potential bias in high school sports.”
NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White confirmed in a statement posted online that state authorities are investigating the incident. He said it would be investigated by the New Jersey Civil Rights division and the referee would no longer be assigned to long run high school wrestling matches in New Jersey until the incident “has been thoroughly reviewed.”
“This will help to avoid disruption of events for student athletes,” White said in a statement on Saturday.
“Finally, as an African-American and parent – as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete – I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most,” White added. “The NJSIAA takes this matter very seriously, and I ask that everyone respect the investigatory process related to all parties involved.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also addressed the incident in a brief tweet Saturday morning, saying he was “deeply disturbed.”
“Deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson, a student at Buena Regional H.S., was forced to choose between keeping his dreadlocks and competing in a wrestling tournament,” he wrote. “No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
The video also sparked outrage from the likes of Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs who commended Johnson on Twitter for cutting his hair to win the match for his team, but expressed his anger over the referee’s order, calling it sickening, racist, and an abuse of power.
“This is nonsense,” Burroughs wrote on Twitter. “My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.”
stepping up, and being selfless, cutting his hair and getting the final takedown in over time to win his match and help his team secure the dual victory. Now, let me tell you how sickening this is. I've been wrestling for 25 years, at every level, and I have never— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
once seen a person required to cut their hair during a match. This is nonsense. As a referee, you are required to check the hair and nails of all wrestlers BEFORE a match. My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
Burroughs called Johnson “courageous” for his performance in the match despite “all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment” and said he understood his reasons for agreeing to the haircut, although it might have been “more powerful” to walk away.
The referee, who is white, has already come under scrutiny before in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, the Courier-Post reported. Maloney said at the time he did not remember using any racial epithets at the particular event, but accepted witness accounts that he did.
Many social media users were outraged by the video and condemned the school for allowing Maloney to make the demand, calling it racist and discriminatory.
I’m the 1st one to admit when Buena is racist, there’s TONS of proof to back that up, but what happened to Andrew Johnson was the fault of a racist ass ref who has been racist before. The coaches (Mrs. Fields especially) & the entire school should NOT catch all this bs for him.— Selena Gonzalez (@selgonzalez_) December 22, 2018
What happened to Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson was beyond disgusting. A whole system broke this boy’s spirit. These are what these systems are designed to do, break us and to operate they need compliance from our “allies”— Randolph Terrance (@realtalkforyou) December 21, 2018
as an athlete it is disgusting when a referee is against you but to make you cut your hair before your match or make u forfeit is a hate crime. Andrew Johnson from Buena Highschool in New Jersey im sorry that your team your coach and every adult atnyour math failed you!— robbie elf ???? (@kingrobbie_) December 21, 2018
Can't sleep because I'm still unpacking what happened to Andrew Johnson, Buena Regional High School wrestler. Everyday the 90 black children who attend this school are in danger of white assimilation. This is so much more than taking one for the team. pic.twitter.com/wrYHQov5KL— Gwendolyn Henderson (@henderg1) December 22, 2018