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New Jersey referee suspended for two years after forcing high school wrestler to chop off dreadlocks

2019-09-19

A south Jersey referee who demanded a high school athlete chop off his dreadlocks in order to compete in a wrestling match has been barred from officiating sporting events for the next two years.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and the state’s athletic association announced the suspension on Wednesday in wake of an investigation into the December incident involving wrestling official Alan Maloney, who is white, and student athlete Andrew Johnson, who identifies as multiracial.

Video of Johnson getting a hasty haircut ahead of his wrestling match on Dec. 19 was shared online and immediately went viral on Twitter, sparking widespread backlash and allegations of racism. He’d been wearing a hair cover at the time, but Maloney still gave the Buena Regional high school wrestler an ultimatum – cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit the match.

The teen, who previously wrestled sans head cover without issue in earlier matches, went on to win in overtime but remained visibly distraught despite his victory.

Epitome of a team player ??

A referee wouldn't allow Andrew Johnson of Buena @brhschiefs to wrestle with a cover over his dreadlocks. It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit. Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win. pic.twitter.com/f6JidKNKoI

The agreement between the DCR and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association also requires high school officials receive implicit bias training.

The viral video additionally prompted the Department on Civil Rights to issue new “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle,” which clarifies that policies banning hairstyles closely associated with those of African-American descent – including dreadlocks – could be in violation of New Jersey State law.

“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement to USA Today.

“Racism discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”

The National Federation of High Schools also amended its hair length rule in response to Johnson’s impromptu pre-match haircut. It now states that hair shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; and that in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows.

The term “natural state” was eliminated from the rule.

With New Wire Services