A high school wrestler was given two choices in the minutes leading up to his season-opening match: cut his dreadlocks in front of an entire gymnasium or forfeit the match and lose points for his team.
The choice was handed down by Alan Maloney, a New Jersey state wrestling official running the match who has a history of racist behavior.
Wrestler forced to cut hair to compete
The wrestler, Buena High School’s Andrew Johnson, decided on the hair cut so that he could compete. What looks to be an athletic trainer cut off his dreadlocks as Johnson looked visibly upset. The video was shared on Twitter by SNJ Today News reporter Mike Frankel and led the segment about the match.
According to a rules official at the National Federation of State High School Associations, Johnson “should have been allowed to wrestle with the head covering.”
Johnson won the match via sudden victory with a takedown in overtime and Buena cruised to a season-opening 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
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
The full segment by Frankel reported that Johnson had to use injury time for the haircut and almost ran out of the time between that and blood issues during the match.
Official back in the wrong spotlight
As the tweet began to spread Friday morning, Twitter users pointed out that New Jersey wrestling has had race-related problems in the past. Maloney, a well-known white ref, allegedly used a racial slur in an argument over homemade wine at a gathering of officials in March 2016. A black official, Preston Hamilton, slammed him to the ground for the remark.
Both men were given year-long suspensions that were later overturned. Maloney additionally agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program.
The NJ Advance Media staff confirmed late morning the ref who instructed Johnson to cut his hair was indeed Maloney, as had been speculated.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association recommended on Friday that Maloney not be assigned to officiate a future event while it can investigate the incident fully, according to NJ.com. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has also opened an investigation.
Never a problem before
Johnson has wrestled at the varsity level for three years now, according to statistics kept by NJ.com, and wrestled in 25 matches last season. (Though it looks like he did so without dreadlocks.)
Most wrestlers with long hair compete with a wrap over their head, but according to Frankel, Maloney did not allow it. No reason for that was given in the initial segment.
Uniform regulations, such as rules about jewelry, are typically well-known in high school sports and shared with athletes at the beginning of the season as well as throughout the year. It would have been something that came up long before the match instead of as he was going to the mat.
An additional note on how the forced haircut is out-of-bounds: New Jersey became the 14th state in the country to offer girls wrestling teams, rather than coed. From NJ.com:
“It’s meant tons of girls around the state are wrestling with long hair.”
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