UPDATE, Dec. 21, 6:35 p.m.: The state athletic association has asked that the ref who forced a wrestler to cut his dreadlocks be sidelined until further notice. In addition, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has opened an investigation.
A wrestler from Buena High School in Atlantic County was told by a referee with a history of racist behavior he had to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match during a dual meet Thursday night against Oakcrest, according to a report by SNJ Today News.
The wrestler, Andrew Johnson, opted to cut his hair, prompting what appears to be an athletic trainer to shear off his dreadlocks with scissors on the mat.
The referee, who is clearly visible in the video, has been identified in various social media posts and by NJ Advance Media staff writers as Alan Maloney, who used a racial slur at a social gathering of officials in March 2016.
Maloney, who is white, used the slur in an argument over homemade wine in a Jersey Shore condo after many of the officials gathered following a youth tournament in Wildwood. Another official, Preston Hamilton, who is black, then slammed Maloney to the ground over the remark.
Video of Thursday’s incident, posted to Twitter by Mike Frankel of SNJ Today News, sparked outrage on social media and calls for Maloney to be punished. Some critics wondered why Johnson was told he had to cut his hair, rather than compete with a wrap over his head, like many other wrestlers with long hair.
Frankel, a reporter who covered the match Thursday, said in a social media post Friday “the wrestler’s coaches argued the referee’s decision for several minutes, until the referee started the injury time clock. At this point, the wrestler removed the cap, and agreed to have his hair cut.”
Wrestlers are allowed to wear legal hair covers during matches, according to wrestling rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations. If a wrestler’s hair in its natural state extends below the earlobe on the sides or touches the top of a normal shirt, it’s required to be secured in a hair cover.
Prior to Thursday, Johnson wrestled twice this season seemingly without incident. He faced a wrestler from Camden Catholic at the Robin Leff Tournament at Southern Regional High; Camden Catholic coach Matt Walsh said Friday he did not recall a wrestler in a hair cover at the tournament and that there were no issues.
Meanwhile, phone messages left Friday for a variety of Buena officials — including district superintendent David Cappuccio Jr., athletic director David Albertson and wrestling coach George Maxwell — were not returned.
In addition, New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association assistant director Bill Bruno — who oversees wrestling for the state — and spokesman Mike Cherenson did not return phone messages Friday.
Maloney also did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Earlier this year, New Jersey became the first state in the mid-Atlantic and just the 14thin the country to offer girls wrestling as an official varsity sport. As a result, more girls around the state than ever have been wrestling, many with long hair.
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