New Jersey high school student Andrew Johnson,15, just wanted to wrestle for his team. He certainly wasn’t expecting to show up for the match and have his dreadlocks cut off.
Now his family is placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of referee Alan Maloney for his mandate that Johnson either cut his hair or be disqualified.
The family’s lawyer, Dominic A. Spezial, explained why the decision was racist:
“As this matter is further investigated, the family wants to be clear that they are supportive of Andrew’s coaches and the team’s athletic trainer. The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression.”
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office spokesperson, Leland Moore, told BuzzFeed News the Division on Civil Rights has launched an investigation. Maloney was investigated once before in 2016 for calling a colleague the n-word at an after-work party.
In a video that has since gone viral, Johnson is seen getting his locks cut off by the team’s trainer. He chose that over being disqualified. Johnson then went on to win his match.
Epitome of a team player ⬇️— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
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
Speziali said about the video:
“Andrew was visibly shaken after he and his coaches made every effort to satisfy the referee short of having his hair cut, but, as captured on video, the unyielding referee gave Andrew 90 seconds to either forfeit his match or cut his hair. Under duress but without any influence from the coaching staff or the athletic trainer, Andrew decided to have his hair cut rather than forfeit the match.”
The New Jersey ACLU sent out a tweet condemning the position the teen was put in.
This is not about hair. This is about race. How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) December 21, 2018
We're so sorry this happened to you, Andrew. This was discrimination, and it's not okay. https://t.co/DK6Efj8ct4
People are rightfully angry over how this was allowed to happen.
This incident is a Rorschach test for racism. A white referee who once called a colleague “nigger” told a black wrestler to cut his dreadlocks off or be forced to forfeit. A white journalist called the young man a “team player.” I saw a kid being violated. https://t.co/P7snXXflug— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) December 21, 2018
Enough of these bastards. Ban him for life. Fire him from his job. Sue any goddamned racist idiots who defend him, into bankruptcy. Enough of this authorized return to 1938. https://t.co/yLL3j4HYiI— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) December 21, 2018
Deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson, a student at Buena Regional H.S., was forced to choose between keeping his dreadlocks and competing in a wrestling tournament. No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports. https://t.co/xfrXrpHpov— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 22, 2018
The video going around of the young wrestler being forced to have his dreadlocks cut has disturbed me so much I've had a hard time expressing it. So all I'll say instead is wear your long and locked hair proudly, young people of colour.— Waubgeshig Rice (@waub) December 22, 2018
Racist refereee who used racial slur in the past forces African American wrestler to have his dreadlocks cut right before match.— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) December 22, 2018
It’s painful watching the video. This is dehumanizing, unconscionable, racially motivated and wrong. No young person deserves this. https://t.co/oj6p8FEI69
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
Bigot Alan Maloney, who once called a fellow wrestling ref a n*gger, made HS wrestler Andrew Johnson cut off his dreads or lose the match.— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) December 21, 2018
He cut them off & won.
Call NJ Wrestling Officials Assoc & demand they fire this racist.
Mark Sherman (973 214 9566) firstname.lastname@example.org pic.twitter.com/mw2FADM2OP
Every single person in that auditorium who didn't step in and stand up for Andrew Johnson failed him. Every single fucking one. And that auditorium was full.— FFVI is the best. Hi, I'm John. (@mistermegative) December 21, 2018
Anyone trying to peddle the idea that racism isn't systematic in this country can fire themselves into the fucking sun.
Many feel the adults failed this young man.
Thank you for this article.— Heidi B (@Knoppsy) December 24, 2018
That act of violence visited upon Mr. Johnson is a failure of all the adults in the room.
This pisses me off, every time I read about it. Andrew Johnson's hair had never been an issue before. Why was it a problem at this match? Why did the coach allow this to happen? He should know the regulations backwards and forwards and in between.— RoLynn (@16RoLynn) December 23, 2018
Excellent article. First thing I said to myself when I saw the video was “Where was the kid’s coach? Where was the other team’s coach?”. They are supposed to be advocates for this young athletes, not do-nothing bystanders.— WorldBFreid (@WorldBFreid) December 23, 2018
Olympic wrestling champion Jordan Burroughs explained what it meant on a larger scale:
A thread: I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the young man who was forced to cut his hair during a wrestling match in order to avoid being disqualified. That young man is Andrew Johnson of Buena High School in New Jersey. Let me start off by saying, I commend Andrew for— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
stepping up, and being selfless, cutting his hair and getting the final takedown in over time to win his match and help his team secure the dual victory. Now, let me tell you how sickening this is. I've been wrestling for 25 years, at every level, and I have never— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
once seen a person required to cut their hair during a match. This is nonsense. As a referee, you are required to check the hair and nails of all wrestlers BEFORE a match. My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
As heroic as it was for Andrew to step up in the midst of what was happening, it shouldn't have got that far. The parents and coaches of the Buena wrestling team should have intervened. This young man should have been protected in this moment. I'm sure his hair was a strong part— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
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.— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
Sometimes taking a stand for something doesn't actually mean standing, but walking away from it. As for the referee Alan Maloney, he needs to be held accountable. You've been refereeing for far too long to not know better. But more than being reprimanded, I truly hope this event— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
causes you to reflect and make an attempt to truly understand. In an occupation that requires so much interaction with young men, your character should reflect your power. Andrew -- I am wishing the best for you and your family. I'm so sorry you had to go through this.— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
But don't lose hope. Trials like this undoubtedly spark change, and I have no doubt your character will shine through.— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
Andrew’s parents, Charles and Rosa, said:
“Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity. As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced.”
Andrew Johnson has yet to speak out.