On Friday, a referee forced a New Jersey high school wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks in the middle of a match in order to continue competing. A viral video shows a trainer hacking off 16-year-old Andrew Johnson’s hair after the referee, who is now being accused of racial bias, gave him an ultimatum.
“The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression,” Johnson’s attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, explained in a statement on Monday.
Johnson, who is a varsity wrestler at Buena Regional High School, had competed the previous week without any issue. But on Friday, referee Alan Maloney told the athlete that his hair did not comply with league regulations, which, in the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rulebook says that “hair must not fall below the back of a shirt collar, the earlobes or eyebrows.”
However, wrestlers with long hair are permitted to wear a head covering, which Johnson had on during the match. But Maloney (who was previously accused of racism in 2016) argued it was not sufficient, and that the teen had to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the match.
Epitome of a team player ⬇️
A referee wouldn't allow Andrew Johnson of Buena @brhschiefs to wrestle with a cover over his dreadlocks. It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit. Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win. pic.twitter.com/f6JidKNKoI
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
The resulting video has sparked a lot of outrage on social media, as people claim Maloney’s behavior is racist and disgraceful. Even New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy weighed in on the matter in a tweet Saturday morning, saying “No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
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. No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports. https://t.co/xfrXrpHpov
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 22, 2018
The incident is currently under investigation by both state authorities and the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, according to a statement made by New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Executive Director Larry White, who added that the referee will be suspended until further notice.