Hair Still an Issue for N.J. High School Wrestler Who Was Forced to Cut His Dreadlocks, Gets Match Abruptly Canceled

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The attorney for the New Jersey high school wrestler who was made to cut his hair during a wrestling match has proclaimed his hair is still an issue.

Andrew Johnson became the focus of national attention last month when he was videoed being forced to cut his dreadlocks after referee Alan Maloney said he had improper headgear and hair. As such, the 16-year-old was told he’d have to lose the extra length or forfeit. Rather than being the one responsible for costing his team the chance to keep competing, Johnson allowed the haircut.

Controversy ensued and the public accused officials of racism against the Black teen as well as abuse of power. An investigation has since been launched into Maloney, a white referee with a past of racism.

But Dominic Speziali, a lawyer for the Johnson family, said there is still a preoccupation with his client’s hair despite all those developments.

Andrew Johnson
High school wrestler Andrew Johnson was told he had to cut his hair or forfeit his Dec. 19, 2018, match. (Twitter)

NBC News reported that a letter Speziali sent to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights on Jan. 9 said that Andrew returned from a self-imposed break to compete with his Buena Regional High School wrestling team last weekend, when he ran into an issue with an official.

Apparently, his haircut three weeks ago still didn’t comply with the rules once the varsity team member showed up for a routine check of his hair and skin. The referee told the athlete he’d have to cover his hair in order to compete.

However, when Andrew’s mother asked about the hair issue, the ref explained it away. Instead, the ref said there was confusion over her son and another teammate. Yet when the match rolled around, there were no wrestlers on either team wearing head coverings.

On Monday, an official with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which regulates athletics and conducts tournaments, sent an email to state wrestling officials. The memo described the kinds of hairstyles that were OK to compete with. Of those that needed to be covered was “a short twist out (a similar hairstyle to that of Andrew’s after his hair was cut),” Speziali’s letter detailed.

However, rules from the National Federation of State High School Associations say only if hair is “in its natural state” and reaches past the earlobes or touches the top of the shirt, “it must be contained in a legal hair cover.”

By Wednesday, the competition Andrew and his team were scheduled to compete in was abruptly canceled. That came after some back-and-forth between the Buena school district, the NJSIAA, the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association, and the NFSHSA.

“Andrew, his family, and, I would venture to say, the entire Buena wrestling team all desire to return to how things were before Alan Maloney’s actions set this chaotic atmosphere in motion,” Speziali’s letter said.

“Yet it appears, for reasons that the division can hopefully soon unmask, that certain officials have a desire to unnecessarily escalate and prolong this ordeal due [to] an unrelenting fixation on the hair of a 16-year-old young man that asked for absolutely none of this,” Speziali went on.

The same day the attorney sent his letter, the NJSIAA revealed it would also begin a probe into whether national rules about hairstyles had been properly enforced.

Buena Regional School District superintendent David Cappuccio said the district “will continue to support and stand by all of our students and student athletes.”

Cappuccio’s latest statement comes after he told the NJSIAA “the school district and its athletic teams will not compete in any contest officiated by [Maloney] from this point forward.”

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