Referee Who Made Wrestler Cut Locs Banned for Two Years

A New Jersey high school referee was suspended for two years after he made headlines after forcing a Black wrestler to cut his dreadlocks in order to compete. The punishment, which was announced by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, came as a result of an investigation by the state’s Division of Civil Rights (DCR).

Alan Maloney, who is white, told Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is Black, that he would need to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit before a match with a wrestler from Oakcrest High School on December 19, 2018. The high school wrestler and his coaches protested the decision, but Johnson eventually agreed to the haircut.

A team trainer cut Johnson’s dreadlocks just before he defeated his opponent in the 120-pound match with a takedown in overtime, ESPN reported. The student athlete finished third at District 29 and ended his season with a first-round loss at Region 8 in February, according to the Cherry Hill Courier-Post.

Video of the interaction soon went viral, prompting the executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to announce Maloney would not be assigned to any matches until the matter was resolved.

State officials announced on September 18 that Maloney had been suspended from his position for at least two wrestling seasons. The New Jersey DCR and the NJSIAA also agreed that officials and staff involved in high school athletics in the state must undergo implicit bias training.

“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” Grewal said in a statement. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play. The Division on Civil Rights’ action today makes it less likely that any student athlete will have to endure discrimination that not only undermines fair competition but also violates our state laws.”

The DCR said it issued guidelines on racial discrimination and reiterated that treating individuals differently for their hairstyles may be against the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

The investigation found the haircut in question occurred after Maloney determined Johnson could not wrestle without a hair cover based on NFHS Rule 4.2.1, which discusses the length of an athlete’s hair. Johnson could not find a hair cover that complied with the rule’s requirements.

Rule 4.2.1 is only based on hair length and not on hairstyle, the investigation noted, according to ESPN.

“Both DCR and the NJSIAA seek to ensure that wrestling officials, coaches, and athletic personnel in New Jersey interpret Rule 4.2.1 in a way that does not discriminate against Black wrestlers,” the organizations said.

“In particular, they seek to eliminate any interpretation of Rule 4.2.1 that allowed wrestling officials to determine that traditionally Black hairstyles were ‘unnatural’ or to subject wrestlers with traditionally Black hairstyles to differential treatments as to when a hair cover was required.”

The hair-length rule now states hair cannot extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back and on the sides, the hair cannot extend below the earlobe level. Under the updated rule, hair in the front cannot extend below the eyebrows. The incident was not the first time Maloney has been accused of racist behavior.

The referee allegedly called another referee a racial slur during a March 2016 social event. Maloney was with other officials in a private home after a youth tournament and reportedly had a disagreement with Preston Hamilton, a Black referee. Hamilton claimed that Maloney poked him in the chest while saying the racial slur, prompting him to slam Maloney to the floor.

Maloney initially claimed he did not remember using the racial epithet but later said he apologized. “You know, people do make mistakes, and I apologized. I really don’t think this should go any further than it’s gone, anyhow,” he told the Cherry Hill Courier-Post. “The remark was not made to him. After he told me what I said, it was pertaining to us breaking each other’s stones.”

In March, Maloney suggested in a legal filing that he may sue for defamation and “emotional distress,” NBC News reported. Maloney said he “properly performed his duties as the referee and fairly applied the rules governing a wrestling match.”

Dominic A. Speziali, Johnson’s attorney, applauded the decision to bench Maloney for two years. He called the decision a win “not on the mat, but for the progress of civil rights in New Jersey.”

“With today’s announcement, we hope that no athlete going forward will be forced to sacrifice their identity for the opportunity to compete,” the lawyer said in a statement, according to ESPN.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.