A high school wrestling referee in New Jersey made a wrestler choose between cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting his match 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 going the haircut route, Johnson won, 4-2, with a sudden takedown as Buena went on to take the match, 41–24.
The conversation certainly does not end there, though. As you can see in the replies below the tweet from SNJ Today News sports director Mike Frankel, asking a wrestler to cut one’s hair is not as simple as taking one for the team, especially when the referee offering the ultimatum is white and the wrestler is black.
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 he did not remember making the remark but accepted the eye-witness accounts of those who did recall him saying it.
“You know, people do make mistakes and I apologized,” Maloney told the Courier-Post at the time. “I really don’t think this should go any further than it’s gone anyhow. … The remark was not made to him. After he told me what I said, it was pertaining to us breaking each other’s stones. … I didn’t remember it. I was told it. I believed it and said, ‘Yo, that ain’t me.’ That’s when I called him right away and that’s when he told me we were good.”
After Hamilton reported the incident, Maloney agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. After both Maloney and Hamilton were scheduled to be suspended for a year, both officials appealed their suspensions. According to NJ.com, those suspensions were overturned after a long process that brought into question the issue of New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association’s jurisdiction over behavior that occurred outside the arena.
Wednesday’s controversial enforcement of the rules, of course, took place within the arena.
UPDATE: The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said in a statement released on Twitter that they have been in contact with school officials for incident reports, and have requested a report from the referee involved.
“In addition — and as per its formal sportsmanship policy — the NJSIAA has provided initial information to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and will continue to send updates as they become available,” the organization said in a statement.
“Regulations regarding hair length and legal hair covers for wrestlers are provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). At this point, the NJSIAA is working to determine the exact nature of the incident and whether an infraction occurred.”
In the statement, the association added that the referee will not be assigned to any other event until the matter is resolved.
“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.”