On Wednesday, a high school wrestling referee in New Jersey made a wrestler choose between cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting his match.
Saturday morning, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy gave his thoughts on the controversial incident.
“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,” Murphy wrote from his handle, @GovMurphy. “No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
On Wednesday, Buena (N.J.) Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson had his dreadlocks covered before his 120-pound match against Oakcrest High (Mays Landing, N.J.) athlete David Flippen. According to SNJToday, referee Alan Maloney told Johnson he could either cut his hair or forfeit the match. Johnson chose the former.
After choosing to get the impromptu haircut, Johnson won, 4-2, with a sudden takedown as Buena went on to take the match, 41–24.
The fallout from the incident certainly has not ended there, however, as the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is investigating.
It is one thing for the referee, who is white, to provide a haircut ultimatum to Johnson, who is black. But, according to a 2016 story from USA TODAY partner The Courier-Post, Maloney has been accused of racism before. That year, the Courier-Post reported, he was accused of directing a racial slur at another referee at a private gathering between officials at a condominium. Per the Courier-Post, Maloney allegedly poked referee Preston Hamilton in the chest and used a racial slur during an argument over homemade wine. The Courier-Post reported that Hamilton, who is black, slammed Maloney to the ground.
Maloney told the Courier-Post at the time he did not remember making the remark but accepted the eye-witness accounts of those who did recall him saying it.
On the National Federation of School Athletic Associations’ website, regarding hair cover, it is written, “If the hair in its natural state is longer than allowed by rule, then it must be contained in a legal hair cover.” Johnson reportedly had covered his hair before the referee issued the ultimatum.
SJN News Today sports director Mike Frankel, who shared the original story, issued a tweet Friday to expand on the initial video.
“The wrestler’s coaches argued the referee’s decision for several minutes, until the referee started the injury time clock,” Frankel wrote.
“At this point, the wrestler removed the cap, and agreed to have his hair cut.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, per the New York Times, the Buena Regional School District said that Maloney would “no longer be permitted to officiate any contests” that involved Buena students.
Former NBA center John Amaechi was among the many to share his thoughts on the incident in a tweet thread.
While speaking about how much the incident disturbed him, UFC fighter Aljamain Sterling said in an interview on TMZ that he would like to train Johnson. Sterling trains on Long Island, not too far from Buena, N.J. (WARNING: offensive language)
“It’s so messed up on so many levels,” Sterling told TMZ Sports.
Sterling added that if he was the coach that day, he would have pulled his team out of the gym in protest and forfeited the match.
Stay with USA TODAY High School Sports for more updates on this story.