A referee who demanded a high school wrestler chop off his dreadlocks has been banned from calling matches involving athletes from the South Jersey school district.
Video of Andrew Johnson getting a hasty haircut ahead of his wrestling match earlier this week went viral on Twitter Friday, sparking widespread backlash and allegations of racism. He’d been wearing a hair cover at the time, but the referee, Alan Maloney, still gave the Buena Regional high school wrestler an ultimatum — cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit the match.
In a statement obtained by The Inquirer, Buena Regional School District Superintendent David Cappuccio Jr. said neither the school nor the district influenced Johnson’s decision to cut off his dreadlocks, but vowed that they would take “appropriate action” as more details about the incident are made clear.
“The Superintendent of the Buena Regional School District spoke with the NJSIAA Assistant Director and stipulated that, although the investigation in the matter is ongoing, the assigned referee will no longer be permitted to officiate any contests that include any Buena Regional School District student-athletes.”
The move is in accordance with recommendations from the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association, which is investigating the incident.
“Regulations regarding hair length and legal haircovers for wrestlers are provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations,” a statement from the organization reads. “At this point NJSIAA is working to determine the exact nature of the incident.”
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, wrestlers’ haircannot fall past the earlobes. If it does they are required to wear a cap to cover it.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Saturday condemned Maloney’s ultimatum and expressed sympathy for the student athlete.
“Deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson, a student a Buena Regional H.S., was forced to choose between keeping his dreadlocks and competing in a wrestling tournament,” he said.
“No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
The New Jersey Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union similarly slammed the incident and called it discriminatory in a statement posted online Friday afternoon.
“This is not about hair. This is about race,” the group said. “How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry? We’re so sorry this happened to you, Andrew. This was discrimination, and it’s not okay.
Maloney was also previously accused of calling another referee a racial slur during a night out in March 2016, according the Courier-Post Journal. The argument was reportedly sparked by a discussion about homemade.