A New Jersey referee who forced a high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before his match on Wednesday or forfeit altogether is under investigation and will not be assigned until the review is completed, officials said.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association [NJSIAA] announced in a statement on Saturday that the incident which went viral this week will be investigated by state authorities.
“Further, NJSIAA can confirm that those groups that assign high school wrestling referees in New Jersey will not assign the referee in question until this matter has been thoroughly reviewed. This will help to avoid disruption of events for student athletes,” Larry White, the executive director of the NJSIAA, said in a statement.
White concluded the statement by saying the association will “take this matter very seriously.”
The state attorney’s office has confirmed an investigation by the Division on Civil Rights. The school superintendent said in a letter to the community that they support and stand by all student-athletes.
On Wednesday, Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, was captured on a video obtained by SNJ Today receiving a cut from an athletic trainer. Johnson had a cover for his hair, but referee Alan Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do. Johnson went on to win his match against Oakcrest but appeared visibly upset.
The video sparked outrage from the likes of Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy among others.
"This is nonsense," Burroughs wrote on Twitter. "My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence."
Burroughs called Johnson “courageous” for his performance in the match despite "all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment" and said he understood his reasons for agreeing to the haircut, although it might have been "more powerful" to walk away.
“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,” Murphy tweeted. “No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity playing & playing sports.”
Maloney has come under scrutiny before in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, the Courier-Post reported. Maloney said at the time he did not remember using any racial epithets at the particular event, but accepted witness accounts that he did. After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. A one-year suspension was overturned.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos and the Associated Press contributed to this report.