PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — New Jersey athletic officials are investigating after a white referee forced a black Buena Regional High School wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks before a match. The incident went viral throughout social media.
SNJ Today reports referee Alan Maloney wouldn’t allow Andrew Johnson to wrestle with a cover over his dreadlocks. According to the report, Buena coaches argued with the referee’s decision, but when the ref started the injury time clock, Andrew decided to have his dreadlocks cut so he could wrestle.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said in a statement they have been in contact with school officials for incident reports, and that they have also have requested a report from the referee involved.
“In addition — and as per its formal sportsmanship policy — the NJSIAA has provided initial information to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and will continue to send updates as they become available,” the organization said in a statement.
There are regulations regarding hair length and legal hair covers for wrestlers and the association is working to determine whether an infraction occurred.
The association also said Maloney should not be assigned to any other event until the matter is resolved.
“As a precautionary measure, given the degree of attention being focused on this matter, the NJSIAA will recommend to chapter officials that the referee in question not be assigned to any event until this matter has been reviewed more thoroughly in order to avoid potential distractions for the competing wrestlers,” the organization said in a statement.
The school superintendent said in a letter to the community that they support and stand by all student athletes.
“The student-athlete made the decision to have his hair cut, at that moment, in order to avoid a forfeiture of the match,” wrote Superintendent David Cappuccio, adding that school officials reached out to the athletic association afterward. “The district will take appropriate action as more details become available.”
The video was shared widely on social media, with users calling the incident “racist,” ”cruel” and “humiliating.”
Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper.
At a private gathering between officials at a condominium, Maloney allegedly poked referee Preston Hamilton, who is black, in the chest and allegedly used a racial slur during an argument over homemade wine. Hamilton slammed Maloney to the ground, according to the Courier Post.
Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments.
After Hamilton reported the incident, Maloney agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. Maloney was to be suspended for one year for his use of the slur and Hamilton would receive the same suspension for assaulting Maloney. Both officials appealed their suspensions, which were overturned.
A woman answering the phone at a listed number for Maloney said the ordeal is being blown out of proportion and the referee was simply following rules.
Wrestlers are allowed to wear legal hair covers during matches, according to wrestling rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations, NJ.com reports. 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
The ACLU of New Jersey tweeted that the incident isn’t about hair, but rather about race.
“How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?” it reads. “We’re so sorry this happened to you, Andrew. This was discrimination, and it’s not OK.”
Andrew ended up winning his match in overtime.
Eyewitness News has reached out to all parties involved for comment.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)