New Jersey

School Board Holds Emergency Meeting Amid Backlash Over White Referee Who Forced Black Student Wrestler to Cut off Dreadlocks

Andrew Johnson was thrust into the national spotlight when a video emerged of a white referee forcing him to choose between cutting off his dreadlocks or forfeiting his match.

What to Know

  • A New Jersey school board held an emergency meeting Wednesday amid outrage at a white ref forcing a black wrestler to cut his dreadlocks
  • Community members showed up at Buena Vista High School to express their disgust at the referee's actions and demand action
  • The school board says it won't participate in any match where the referee is present

A New Jersey school board says it will never again participate in any sporting event being refereed by Alan Maloney, the controversial official who forced a high school wrestler to cut off his dreadlocks at risk of forfeiting the game. 

The decision was made ahead of an emergency meeting at Buena Regional High School Wednesday evening, the same day Andrew Johnson decided not to wrestle for at school's Thursday match amid the uproar.

The incident thrust the student, the referee, the school and others into the national spotlight as video of Johnson getting his dreadlocks cut at the game went viral and sparked outrage. Community members showed up at the emergency meeting at express their anger. 

"I couldn't believe that this pig would humiliate that kid on the mat," said Buena Vista committeman Steve Martinelli. 

"What I am deeply disappointed in was the public spectacle that was made of trimming Andrew's hair," said Rev. William Cowherd. 

Many others wanted to take a public opportunity to praise Johnson for staying composed and winning his match. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, we oughta applaud that young man for his actions," one meeting attendee declared as the room clapped for the teen. 

The school board said at the meeting it would discuss the incident with the high school's wrestling coach and athletic trainer behind closed doors. The outcome of that discussion would not be made public. 

An attorney for the Johnson family said the wrestler did not want either of the two school employees fired.

"Andrew and the family, they are supportive of the coaching staff, specifically George Maxwell and Ms. Fields, the trainer who was cutting his hair," said attorney Dominic Speziali. "The blame here is on the referee." 

Johnson's parents previously said in a statement that Maloney arrived late to the match and didn't attend the weigh-in. They also said that when Maloney evaluated the teen before the match, he didn't raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering.

Maloney didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

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.

The video originally tweeted last week by a SNJ Today reporter shows Johnson standing dejected in the school's gym after being forced to choose between getting his hair cut or forfeiting last Wednesday.

In the video, fans and coaches watched an official cut off Johnson's dreadlocks with a pair of scissors before he was allowed to compete.

The crowd cheered as Johnson won the match — which helped his school to a tournament victory. Despite having his hand raised after the victory, the junior stood with his shoulders slumped and head down as he walked off the mat to be comforted by his team.

The incident sparked a social media backlash and questions about the treatment of young people of color. Johnson's parents have thanked those who have shown support for their son.

"Andrew has been deeply moved by the thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support — including from an Olympic wrestler, leading civil rights advocates and elected officials — after the shocking pre-match ultimatum," they said in a statement.

"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."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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