Referee in dreadlock haircut controversy has been suspended for two years
NEW JERSEY — A referee in New Jersey who pressured a varsity wrestler into cutting off his dreadlocks has been suspended for two seasons, state officials announced Wednesday.
The referee, Alan Maloney, told the teenager that he would have to forfeit that day’s match if his dreadlocks were uncovered.
An investigation into the controversial 2018 incident led to an agreement between the Division of Civil Rights and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to suspend Maloney.
The agreement also calls for implicit bias training for officials and staff involved in high school athletics across New Jersey.
CNN has reached out to Maloney several times, including Wednesday, but has not received a response.
Maloney is white, and the news release about the agreement says that the wrestler, Andrew Johnson, identifies as mixed race.
“This is vindication,” Johnson’s attorney Dominic Speziali told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “This entire incident happened based on nothing he did wrong.”
In December, Maloney told Johnson, a student at Buena Regional High School, to cover his hair or forfeit. Johnson couldn’t find a hair covering that met with the rules.
Faced with a forfeit, the 16-year-old wrestler had a trainer cut his hair. Video of a trainer cutting Jackson’s hair on the mat went viral, prompting criticism from professional athletes and celebrities.
“Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “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.”
In the memorandum of agreement, the parties note Johnson told the civil rights agency investigator that he didn’t think he would be allowed to wrestle unless he cut his hair, so he told a trainer to cut it.
The trainer asked the referee what to cut, and Maloney allegedly said something like “Cut until I say so,” Johnson told the investigator, according to the memo.
According to the memo, Maloney disputed Johnson’s testimony and told investigators he did not give instructions on how to cut the wrestler’s hair and said it was Johnson’s coach who told the trainer to cut his hair. He said he was not talking with the trainer or the coaches, the agreement says.
A coach, however, told the investigator that the referee did tell the trainer when to stop and then the match took place.
Johnson competed for the rest of the season without a hair cover, after a national official clarified that the rule pertained to length, not hairstyle, the memo says.
Hair-length rules have been changed, said Larry White, the executive director of the NJSIAA, which oversees high school sports in the state.
“We are confident that those changes, together with the training programs NJSIAA will be developing in collaboration with (the civil rights division), will ensure that a situation like this does not happen in the future,” he said.