Referee who forced black high school wrestler to cut dreadlocks has been fired
At a high school wrestling match in New Jersey, 16-year-old Andrew Johnson faced an ultimatum: cut his dreadlocks, or forfeit the match. He chose to compete, so an athletic trainer sheared his dreadlocks on the mat. Johnson defeated his opponent by sudden victory in overtime, but appeared distraught.
South New Jersey News reporter Mike Frankel captured the forced haircut on camera and shared the clip on Twitter, commenting, "Epitome of a team player." However, many people found the incident offensive, as Johnson won the match at the cost of his dignity. Why wasn't he allowed to cover his dreadlocks, like other long-haired wrestlers do?
The clip sparked outrage on social media, spinning the story into national news. Critics accused referee Alan Maloney of child abuse, racism and being a total dick. Others insisted that Johnson's dreadlocks broke the rules, and that forced haircuts at wrestling matches aren't that weird. 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time champion Jordan Burroughs even commented on the situation, calling it "sickening."
"The parents and coaches of the Buena wrestling team should have intervened," he tweeted. "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."
Following the controversy, Johnson's parents released a statement through their lawyer, Dominic A. Speziali. They thanked everyone for their "thunderous" support, stating, "Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity." Speziali then provided the first details regarding what transpired before the bout:
"The scholastic wrestling rules clearly state that referees are to inspect wrestlers’ appearance and determine any rules violations prior to the start of the meet, typically during weigh-ins. The referee here was late to the meet and missed weigh-ins. When he did evaluate Andrew, he failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering.
"He added that the referee later informed Nate Johnson, Andrew’s younger brother and teammate, that they would both need to wear a head covering or face disqualification.
"As Andrew took to the mat to start his match, the referee examined and rejected the head covering he was wearing. In prior matches at a tournament the weekend before, Andrew was permitted to wrestle without issue, a fact that his coaches conveyed to the referee when pleading on his behalf. Andrew then requested he be allowed to push his hair back as he did the weekend prior, but the referee again refused because ‘it wasn’t in its natural state.'"
According to Good Morning America, New Jersey superintendent David Cappuccio has decided that Alan Maloney's referee-ing days are over - in his district, anyway. During a school board meeting to discuss "personnel matters," Cappuccio reportedly said, "He's done working with our district."
Maloney was already on indefinite suspension following the incident. And this is not the first offense on his record. In 2016, he reportedly called a black official a racial slur, prompting that official to slam Maloney to the ground.
Speziali says Andrew Johnson feels "emotionally drained" and seeks a return to normalcy. Due to the massive media attention, he is not competing in upcoming wrestling matches, but plans to return later this season.
But hey, don't get too down, Alan Maloney. I heard they're hiring at Supercuts!