Black wrestler made to cut dreadlocks is back in action
WILLIAMSTOWN — A New Jersey high school wrestler forced by a referee to cut his dreadlocks before a match to avoid a forfeit has returned to competition.
Andrew Johnson wrestled Saturday for the first time more than two weeks. The Buena Regional student lost by a 6-2 decision to Clayton/Glassboro wrestler Jaden Hinton in a 120-pound bout that opened a tournament.
Johnson had his dreadlocks cut minutes before a match Dec. 19. Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair, but referee Alan Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn't do. Maloney hasn't responded to requests for comment.
Johnson, who still wears his hair in short, thin dreadlocks, wrestled Saturday without a hair cover. It wasn't clear if he had to make any adjustments to stay within the rules.
Johnson's family said he made the choice to accept a haircut at the match "under duress" in a statement released to media last month. Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, a New Jersey Native, and Gov. Phil Murphy, have been among those to criticize the ultimatum.
"My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence," Borroughs tweeted.
Among the details fueling the criticism: Referee Alan Maloney, who is white, had previously been accused of using the N-word during a gathering of wrestling officials. Maloney said he didn't remember using the term, but believes accounts of others who said he'd done so, according to the Courier-Post.
The same week, the Office of the Attorney General launched an investigation in to the hair-cutting incident via the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights — a move that put the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's previously announced investigation aside.
In 2013, the Division on Civil Rights and the NJSIAA entered into an agreement to address incidents of potential bias in high school sports, the AG's office said. Typically, the NJSIAA will investigate incidents involving players, coaches, and fans, with notice given to the state, and the civil rights division only takes over if the matter "is not properly investigated or remedied," the AG's office told New Jersey 101.5 in an emailed statement.
But because the hair-cutting incident involved a referee — an NJSIAA official — the division will handle this matter, it said.
An investigation by the Division of Civil Rights is not a criminal inquiry, but rather an investigation into whether there was a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
According to rules set forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations and adopted by the NJSIAA a wrestler's hair "shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides. The hair shall not extend below earlobe level in the front." Hair is allowed to be braided or rolled in a cover, but the hair cover needs to be attached to the head gear, according to the rule.
Philly.com reported that according to Howie O’Neill, a member of the Southern Chapter of the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association, a cover Johnson used didn't attach to his headgear as required. But the site also reported Johnson had been allowed to wrestle in previous matches without issue.
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