The New Jersey referee who forced a high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before a match has been suspended as a state agency investigates the incident.
Larry White, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said in a statement that "those groups that assign high school wrestling referees in New Jersey will not assign the referee in question until this matter has been thoroughly reviewed." The incident is now under investigation by the New Jersey Civil Rights division.
The "referee in question" is Alan Maloney, who forced 16-year-old Andrew Johnson of Buena Regional High School to either cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match at a Dec. 19 meet. Johnson opted for a last-minute haircut, and video of a school official cutting Johnson's hair was tweeted by a local reporter.
Johnson went on to win the match, reported SNJ Today.
Maloney's ultimatum to Johnson, and the video showing Johnson's hair being cut, sparked outrage online as social media users decried the incident as discriminatory and racist. Johnson is black and Maloney is white. The referee was accused of using a racial slur in a 2016 incident.
“The staff and administration within the Buena Regional School District will continue to support and stand by all of our students and student-athletes,” Buena Regional School District Superintendent David Cappuccio said in a Dec. 21 letter to the community. “In collaboration with the (New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association) and its ongoing investigation in this matter, the district will take appropriate action as more details become available.”
Johnson’s parents, Charles and Rosa Johnson, issued a statement Monday through attorney Dominic Speziali. The statement said Maloney was late to the match and didn't question Johnson's hair or need for a head covering during the initial evaluation.
The referee later informed Johnson's brother, Nate Johnson, that he and Andrew Johnson would have to wear head coverings during the match, Speziali said. But when it was Andrew Johnson's turn to wrestle, Maloney "rejected the head covering he was wearing" and issued the ultimatum.
Andrew Johnson had been allowed to wrestle in previous tournaments with the same covering, the statement said.
"The blame here rests primarily with the referee," Speziali said, "and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression."
Maloney hasn't responded to requests from media outlets for comment.
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