New Jersey has opened a civil rights investigation into a high school wrestling match in which a white referee forced a black athlete to chop off is dreadlocks.

The governing body that regulates high school sports in the state said Friday that it would investigate the Wednesday incident, which was caught on video that went viral. The incident continues to prompted outrage from people who saw it as a racially charged action by a referee who once called a fellow black official an anti-black slur.

On Saturday, the executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said that its investigation would take a back seat to the probe by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.

In the meantime, the ref, Alan Maloney, has been sidelined from all further matches. Maloney made Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson chop off his locks or forfeit the bout.

Johnson went on to win, but it was no feel-good ending.

Gov. Phil Murphy, vacationing with his family in Africa on Saturday, said on Twitter that he was "deeply disturbed."

"No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports," he said.

U.S. Olympian and famed New Jersey wrestler Jordan Burroughs also weighed in and blamed the adults for not protecting the student.

"Let me start off by saying, I commend Andrew for stepping up, and being selfless, cutting his hair and getting the final takedown in over time to win his match and help his team secure the dual victory," Burroughs said on a Twitter thread.

"Now, let me tell you how sickening this is. I've been wrestling for 25 years, at every level, and I have never once seen a person required to cut their hair during a match.

"This is nonsense. As a referee, you are required to check the hair and nails of all wrestlers BEFORE a match. My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.

"As heroic as it was for Andrew to step up in the midst of what was happening, it shouldn't have got that far. The parents and coaches of the Buena wrestling team should have intervened. This young man should have been protected in this moment.

"I'm sure his hair was a strong part of his identity, and no single victory is worth succumbing to the pressure of unjust oppression and the unwarranted stripping of that identity. Just watch Andrew's emotion after the match clinching takedown — he was somber, knowing that he had just given up so much for so little. Sometimes taking a stand for something doesn't actually mean standing, but walking away from it.

"As for the referee Alan Maloney, he needs to be held accountable. You've been refereeing for far too long to not know better. But more than being reprimanded, I truly hope this event causes you to reflect and make an attempt to truly understand. In an occupation that requires so much interaction with young men, your character should reflect your power.

"Andrew — I am wishing the best for you and your family. I'm so sorry you had to go through this. But don't lose hope. Trials like this undoubtedly spark change, and I have no doubt your character will shine through."

Burroughs said more on Instagram.

It was not clear which specific rule, if any, Maloney cited. Although other officials have defended the referee.

But prominent figures and organizations have already condemned the ref.

Assemblyman John Armato, a Democrat who represents Buena and Buena Vista, said the incident "was without a doubt a clear act of racial discrimination."

The state chapter of the ALCU called what happened "discrimination."

"This is not about hair. This is about race," the civil liberties group said on its Twitter account. "How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?"

NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White asked the public to "respect the investigatory process related to all parties involved.”

"[A]s an African-American and parent – as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete – I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most. The NJSIAA takes this matter very seriously," White said Saturday.

The Courier-Post reported in October 2016 that Maloney called a black man, also a referee, the N-word during a social gathering.

"Maloney told the Courier-Post he does not remember using the word at all, let alone directing it at Hamilton, but believes the accounts of witnesses who told him he said the word," the newspaper reported.

The New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association's Ethics Committee suspended Maloney for a year. But the group also suspended the black ref for body-slamming Maloney after he used the slur. Both men appealed their suspensions and the committee overturned them, according to the Courier-Post.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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