On Thursday, a high school athlete from New Jersey was forced to decide between forfeiting his wrestling match or cutting off his dreadlocks.
Andrew Johnson is a student and wrestler at Buena Regional High School. He wore a cover over his dreadlocks during his wrestling matches in the past, but one official decided it was unacceptable.
According to SNJ Today News Sport Director, Mike Frankel:
“A referee wouldn’t allow Andrew Johnson of Buena @brhschiefs to wrestle with a cover over his dreadlocks.”
The referee, now identified as Alan Maloney, gave Johnson an ultimatum.
“It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit. Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win.”
Frankel captured the haircut on camera and posted it to Twitter.
Epitome of a team player ⬇️
A referee wouldn't allow Andrew Johnson of Buena @brhschiefs to wrestle with a cover over his dreadlocks. It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit. Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win. pic.twitter.com/f6JidKNKoI
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
In the video, Johnson is visibly upset.
It continues to show Johnson after he beat his opponent, looking both physically and emotionally exhausted after all he had been through to win the match.
To add insult to injury, Johnson’s hair cover was not even breaking any rules.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations:
“The hair, in its natural state, 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, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows.”
The rule continues:
“If an individual has hair longer than allowed by rule, it may be braided or rolled if it is contained in a cover so that the hair rule is satisfied.”
Furthermore, the referee who ordered Johnson’s unnecessary haircut has a history of racist behavior.
According to a 2016 report by the Courier Post, referee Alan Maloney publicly used the n-word at a fellow referee during a meeting of the officials association.
“Over a 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 insisted that he had no memory of using the slur, but apologized anyway.
“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. After he told me what I said, it was pertaining to us breaking each other’s stones. … I didn’t remember it.”
“I was told it. I believed it and said, ‘Yo, that ain’t me.’ That’s when I called him right away and that’s when he told me we were good.”
The internet is incensed about the entire situation.
That ref should be VERY ashamed!
— The REAL Patriot Alliance (@Southpaw253) December 21, 2018
This is bogus as fuck, I can’t believe yall still doin this to kids https://t.co/SPWmed4Awy
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) December 21, 2018
this is racist & shameful & no young person should ever be forced to make a choice like this https://t.co/M38CHqHG1A
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) December 21, 2018
This is racist. There is nothing good about this story.
It’s anti-Black AF to tell someone they must forfeit bc of their hair. https://t.co/UICxBCiwYk
— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) December 21, 2018
Others were quick to correct Frankel’s claim that Johnson was a “team player.”
Disgusting and heartbreaking. A referee known for his racism, Alan Maloney (google him), made high school wrestler Andrew Johnson cut off his dreads or lose the match. They were covered and gave him no advantage. So he cut them off. He won the match. Never should’ve been allowed. pic.twitter.com/ChMXPBzHPk
— Shaun King (@shaunking) December 21, 2018
This same ref, Alan Maloney, called a grown ass Black man, a ref, a nigger last year and got his ass whooped over it.
Shame on New Jersey for allowing him to stay in this profession.
Parents all over the state emailed me this morning about his bigotryhttps://t.co/Lp3rok60Vn
— Shaun King (@shaunking) December 21, 2018
MAN if someone had forced me to cut off my locs in front of everybody or else not be allowed to play ball…This is not a story of someone taking one for the team, but of someone forced to be dehumanized just to compete. Big big shoutout to Andrew for rising above and winning! https://t.co/kvJqb3SfBI
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) December 21, 2018
Being coerced into complying with racist policy is not being a “team player.” Framing this as a “hero narrative” only normalizes a harmful policy. The story here is the awful rule. Not the poor kid who felt compelled to comply. https://t.co/NTzRoUkwIn
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) December 21, 2018
This is disgusting, and I'm angry on this young man's behalf. You can SEE how humiliated he is. If anything, the team should've rallied around him and agreed not to participate so HE COULD KEEP HIS LOCS. Miss me with that "team player" crap. There's no justifying this. https://t.co/Lrv1Koq3H7
— Angie Thomas (@angiecthomas) December 21, 2018
— ✨ Queen AB ✨ (@Ms_AfiaB) December 22, 2018
No. The epitome of a team player would be every other member of the team either boycotting the match or having their hair cut, too. This was just wrong and the ref should never work a match again.
— Christopher Ferris (@christo4ferris) December 22, 2018
Team should have walked out of the gym. Andrew is obviously a good man, but his coach and team should never have let him do it.
— i look this old (@ZientakbBrian) December 22, 2018
This is NOT an instance of “being a team player.” This is a young man being reminded, publicly, that his blackness is unacceptable. The fact that he crushes anyway just shows how incredibly strong black folks have to be just to leave the damn house every day. #BlackLivesMatter
— Lauren Shields (@LaurenJShields) December 22, 2018
not ONE person stepped in to defend him from the racist referee. not his coach, his teammates or any of the parents sitting in the audience. he won but he looks so defeated. https://t.co/Q2e1Ncemi3
— nañi (@pettyblackgirI) December 21, 2018
Frankel has since apologized for “miss[ing] the bigger picture” with his original caption.
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 21, 2018
On Friday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) released a statement. They are reviewing the matter and provided information to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
NJSIAA also urged the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association to not allow Maloney to continue officiating until the investigation was complete.
Buena Regional School District said Maloney would “no longer be permitted to officiate any contests” involving their students.