White ref in NJ forces black high school wrestler to cut dreads
BUENA — A South Jersey high school wrestling referee (who has previously been accused of using a racial slur) gave a Buena Regional High School wrestler two choices: Cut off his dreadlocks on the spot or lose an important match.
TMZ reports that the white referee, Alan Maloney, would not let Andrew Johnson, who is black, wrestle while wearing a cover over his hair.
After his coaches couldn't convince the ref to back down, Johnson went with the on-the-spot haircut and went on to win the match, although the look on his face at the end appeared more agonized than thrilled.
The story is gaining national attention because many find the ref's actions racially charged.
Mike Frankel, sports director at SNJ Today, caught the incident on video, describing the wrestler as the "epitome of a team player."
But many commenters on Twitter did not see this as something worth celebrating, and Frankel later apologized for the wording of his original tweet.
"This is not a team player," one Twitter user said. "This is a black boy who had [to] make a tragic decision based on other people’s ignorance during a time when he needed to be focused but managed to win anyway. This is yet another example of how black bodies are used for sport but not respected."
The incident is being investigated by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body that regulates high school sports.
“Regulations regarding hair length and legal hair covers for wrestlers are provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)," Executive Director Larry White said Friday. "At this point, the NJSIAA is working to determine the exact nature of the incident and whether an infraction occurred."
"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.”
Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, said the incident "was without a doubt a clear act of racial discrimination."
"Alan Maloney, someone who shouldn't have been allowed to work as a referee after previous condemned actions, should be banned immediately," the lawmaker from Buena Vista said. "This is sure to be traumatic experience that Johnson should have never encountered. I admire that even in the face of discrimination this young athlete refused to let ignorance hold him back from a win. I will be reaching out to the Buena school board to ensure that this is dealt with properly."
The incident is also gaining national attention because of Maloney's apparent past. In the fall of 2016, The Courier-Post reported that a group of wrestling officials who had worked at a local tournament gathered for some drinks.
During that gathering, there was an apparent disagreement about homemade wine, said Preston Hamilton, who is African American, fellow referee Alan Maloney poked his finger in his chest and hurled the epithet. 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. Hamilton told the Courier-Post he responded by slamming Maloney, who is white, to the ground. The confrontation ended there.
The epithet referenced in the article was the N-word.
Months after the confrontation, the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association ruled it has no jurisdiction over what happened that night.
Maloney later told the Courier-Post, “You know, people do make mistakes and I apologized. I really don’t think this should go any further than it’s gone anyhow. … The remark was not made to him.”