A New Jersey school district has decided it will not send its sports teams to compete in any contests officiated by the referee who forced a Black varsity wrestler to lose his dreadlocks or forfeit his match.
On Wednesday, the Buena Regional Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss the Dec. 19 match where Andrew Johnson, 16, was forced to cut his hair minutes before hitting the mat, CNN reported. Video of a trainer taking a pair of scissors to Johnson’s hair went viral over the weekend, sparking cries of racism and public humiliation.
The young wrestler ended up winning the match in overtime but was visibly distraught by what had happened.
“We have viewed the video footage that has gone viral and are deeply troubled by the embarrassment and humiliation our young student athlete endured,” district superintendent David C. Cappuccio Jr. said in a statement. “District administration has been working diligently around the clock for the past several days collecting as much info as possible about the sequence of events occurring this past December 19.”
Cappuccio said he told the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) that “the school district and its athletic teams will not compete in any contest officiated by this referee from this point forward.”
The ref in question, Alan Maloney, was tardy to the team’s weigh-ins that day and made no objections about the length of Johnson’s hair when he evaluated him before the match, the wrestler’s parents said. They said Johnson had been allowed to wear head coverings in the past and when he offered to do so this time, Maloney said it wouldn’t do, claiming the head gear wasn’t in compliance with league regulations.
So, the teen was faced with an ultimatum: either agree to cut his dreads or forfeit the match. Johnson chose the former.
“The blame here is on the referee,” said Dominic A. Speziali, a lawyer for Johnson’s family. “It’s still not clear to me why that had to happen, in that manner, to Andrew.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Cappuccio noted that Maloney is not an employee of the school district, and therefore the board has “no control as to the extent to which he will be able to continue to work as a wrestling official.” The NJSIAA announced on Saturday that Maloney wouldn’t be assigned to any more matches until the incident is investigated.
The referee hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Johnson’s parents have spoken out since the incident and thanked the members of the public, many of whom lauded Johnson’s composure during the difficult incident, for their overwhelming support for their son. According to Speziali, the family is still supportive of the coaching staff and the trainer who cut Johnson’s hair, and placed sole blame on Maloney for the “shocking pre-match ultimatum.”
“Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity,” the family said in a statement. “As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced.”
The incident is being reviewed by the NJSIAA, as well as the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.