A viral video of a high school wrestler being forced to have his dreadlocks cut during a competition caused widespread outrage last year. Today, the referee who made the ruling was suspended for two years.
The punishment against referee Alan Maloney was handed down following an investigation by New Jersey’s Division of Civil Rights. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the suspension. He says referees will also be required to take mandatory bias training.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association initially barred Maloney from refereeing while officials investigated the incident. Maloney, who is white, told Buena Regional wrestler Andrew Johnson he would forfeit his match against Oakcrest High School if he did not cut his hair. Johnson, who identifies as multiracial, had his locks chopped off by a school official using scissors.
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
“Student-athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” Grewal said in a statement. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play. The Division on Civil Rights’ action today makes it less likely that any student-athlete will have to endure discrimination that not only undermines fair competition but also violates our state laws.”
Maloney made the call after determining Johnson needed to wrestle with a hair cover, and his team was unable to find one that satisfied rules concerning long hair. Maloney allegedly referred to Johnson’s dreads as “braids” and said the teenager’s hair “wasn’t in its natural state.”
But investigators found that several New Jersey officials had interpreted the rules to apply to black hairstyles regardless of length.
Rules outlined by the National Federation of State High School Associations state that a cap must cover hair extending below the eyebrows, earlobes or neckline. The state says it hopes today’s announcement eliminates interpretations of a rule “that allowed wrestling officials to determine that traditionally Black hairstyles were `unnatural’ or to subject wrestlers with traditionally Black hairstyles to differential treatment as to when a hair cover was required.”
Before the start of this season, all wrestling referees in New Jersey will undergo in-person training emphasizing that the hair rule is based on length, not size. Implicit bias training will be given to all high school officials by the end of the 2020-2021 school year—with schools being required to provide similar training to administrators, coaches, and trainers.
Following the incident with Johnson and the initial decision to temporarily bar him, Maloney filed a notice of his intent to sue for defamation and emotional distress. He’s been accused of racist behavior in the past— including a 2016 incident where he allegedly used the N-word during at a social gathering following a youth tournament.