A referee who told a New Jersey high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match last year was suspended by the state for two seasons Wednesday, and officials also announced mandatory bias training for all referees and coaches involved in high school athletics.
Referee Alan Maloney, who is white, told Buena Regional wrestler Andrew Johnson, who identifies as multiracial, that he had to cut his hair or forfeit the match last December. A widely disseminated video showed Johnson’s hair being cut on the sidelines.
The state Division on Civil Rights investigation found that Maloney determined that Johnson required a hair covering and gave Johnson the choice of cutting his hair or forfeiting after no covering could be located that satisfied rules governing long hair.
The report concluded, however, that various New Jersey wrestling officials had interpreted the rule to apply to various traditionally black hair styles regardless of length.
The agreement between the civil rights office and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced Wednesday seeks to eliminate interpretations of the rule “that allowed wrestling officials to determine that traditionally Black hairstyles were ‘unnatural’ or to subject wrestlers with traditionally Black hairstyles to differential treatment as to when a hair cover was required.”
As part of Wednesday’s agreement, the athletic association will provide in-person training to all wrestling officials in the state before the start of the season to emphasize that the rule in question is based on hair length, not hair style.
By the end of the 2020-2021 school year, the association will provide implicit bias training to all high school officials and require schools to provide similar training to administrators, coaches and trainers.
Maloney had been barred from officiating while the investigation proceeded. In March, he filed notice that he planned to sue for defamation and emotional distress. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on Wednesday.
In an email Wednesday night, Dominic Speziali, an attorney representing the Johnson family, praised the investigation by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and wrote, "we hope that no athlete going forward will be forced to sacrifice their identity for the opportunity to compete."
Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper. Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments. After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. A one-year suspension was overturned.