A high school wrestler from New Jersey, facing the threat of a forfeit, had his dreadlocks cut at a wrestling meet on Wednesday, sparking outrage across the internet against the white referee that gave him the ultimatum.
A video of 120-pound Beuna Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson getting his hair cut was posted to Twitter by SNJ Today News sports director Mike Frankel. Johnson can be seen being consoled by his teammates and appears visibly upset after his overtime victory over his opponent.
While the video doesn’t show the conversation that happened prior to Johnson’s hair being cut, SNJ Today reported that the referee in question, Alan Maloney, told Johnson that the cover he had over his hair was non-compliant and that he either had to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the match. Not wanting to give the opposing team six free team points, Johnson elected to have his hair cut above his neckline by a trainer.
Maloney has been accused of racist behavior before, having previously been called out for using a racial slur at a social gathering attended by other wrestling officials. Maloney said he didn’t remember using the slur, but never denied that he said it.
Frankel reported that coaches argued with the referee for several minutes, and only once the referee signaled for injury time to start did Johnson decide he would get his hair cut rather than forfeit.
Immediately, people who saw the video posted by Frankel began criticizing Maloney’s decision to have Johnson cut his hair as both humiliating and racist.
The ACLU of New Jersey pointed out that Maloney’s decision as a referee was discriminatory.
After the video spread, the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association said in a statement that Maloney has been temporarily suspended from officiating any events while the association reviews the incident.
“As a precautionary measure, given the degree of attention being focused on this matter, the NJSIAA will recommend to chapter officials that the referee in question not be assigned to any event until this matter has been reviewed more thoroughly in order to avoid potential distractions for the competing wrestlers,” the association said.
Fellow wrestler Jordan Burroughs shared his own reaction to the situation on Twitter, outlining his own feelings about Johnson’s decision to cut his hair for his team, but also how much it sickened him to see this display of power unfold.
Reactions online have raised questions about the referee and many other adults in the room that allowed this situation to transpire as it did.
Many took issue with the framing of the original video, in which Frankel called Johnson a team player instead of focusing on the larger social issues at hand.
Some even pointed out that other wrestlers with long hair have competed in matches with no problems.
There are regulations for hair length and hair covers that are laid out by the National Federation of State High School Associations, but they are vague at best and only note that a legal hair covering is one that fits snugly and doesn’t prevent any legal holds.
Meanwhile, rules set out by the NJSIAA specify that hair covering should be worn at weigh-in to ensure that they are legal. Either the officials at the weigh-in didn’t properly assess Johnson’s hair cover, they decided to ignore it, or found it to comply to the regulations.
The timing of Maloney’s decision for Johnson to cut his hair or forfeit is especially interesting because this was at least a month into the regular high school wrestling season, and Johnson had already wrestled two matches without any problems. Why now?
Maloney has not been reached for comment by any publications.