A lawyer for a New Jersey high school wrestler, who was forced to cut his dreadlocks by a referee before a match, said that officials have an “unrelenting fixation” on his hair, according to NBC News.
In December, Andrew Johnson, a Black Buena Regional High School student, was given a choice by a White referee to either forfeit his match or cut his hair. The incident, which was caught on video, caused outrage online with people wondering if the incident was racist.
Johnson’s family lawyer, Dominic Speziali, sent a letter to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights on Wednesday that the high schooler took a break from wrestling with his team so he wouldn’t be a distraction.
Epitome of a team player ⬇️
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
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
Johnson returned to the mat on Jan. 5.
The 16-year-old’s lawyer said that the referee, Alan Maloney, initially said that Johnson had to put on a hair cover but “that there was some confusion and it was another wrestler that would have to wear a hair covering, not Andrew.” Adding that, “no wrestler for Buena or Buena’s first opponent wore any type of hair covering.”
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which regulates athletics and conducts tournaments in the state, sent an email on Monday detailing which hairstyles require a hair cover. One of the hairstyles shows a Black person with “short, braided or dreadlocked hair,” per NJ Advance Media.
Maloney, who was accused of using a racial slur in March 2016, was reportedly fired from the Buena Regional School District.