The mother of a New Jersey high school wrestler said she was devastated when a referee with an allegedly racist past forced her son to get his dreadlocks hacked off to compete in a match.
“Hardest thing I’ve ever seen,” wrote Rose Santiago-Johnson, the mother of Buena Regional HS junior Andrew Johnson, on Facebook. “He is good now … but that was brutal emotionally and physically.”
The mom and her son have received sympathy and support after a video of the forced haircut went viral — piling up 12 million views on Twitter and sparking outrage from activists and celebrities.
The athlete was in a dual meet against Oakcrest High School in Hamilton, NJ, on Friday when referee Alan Maloney, 62, ordered him to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit because his hair wasn’t in compliance with wrestling regulations, according to a statement from the high school superintendent.
Trainer Denise Fields could be seen in the video cutting off the dreads, according to the Courier Post in Cherry Hill. Andrew went on to pin his opponent.
Speculation that the ref’s demand was racially motivated quickly blew up social media, along with Maloney’s past.
In March 2016, the referee allegedly used a racial slur during an argument at a Jersey Shore condo after a youth-wrestling tournament in Wildwood, the Courier Post reported.
He and a fellow referee, Preston Hamilton, who is African American, were arguing about wine, the paper reported. Maloney then poked him in the chest and used the N-word, Hamilton told the paper.
Hamilton said he slammed Maloney to the ground, and reported the incident to the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association. Maloney was allowed to return to officiating by September 2016.
He said he eventually apologized to Hamilton. “It was two men, a group of guys, having fun and it was just a slip-up,” Maloney told the Courier Post in 2016. “If you can’t see past that, then
I don’t know what to say. I made a mistake and I apologized for it. And it was accepted.”
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said they are investigating Friday’s incident.
“The NJSIAA will recommend to chapter officials that the referee in question not be assigned to any event until this matter has been reviewed more thoroughly in order to avoid potential distractions for the competing wrestlers,” the NJSIAA said in a statement.
Boldfacers like Khloé Kardashian are solidly in Johnson’s corner.
“This is disgusting!! Beyond Heartbreaking,” the 34-year-old reality-TV star thundered on Instagram. “He won and will continue to win in life!!! He is strong! He is a king … Maybe it’s not shown, but I wish people, coaches, bystanders would have protested this appalling order from this horrible excuse for a ref! It sickens me that people like this work around youth! Our youth deserves better! This is traumatizing.”
Even New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy expressed outrage.
“I’m deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson … 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 and playing sports.”
Even though Buena Regional High School said in a statement that Maloney would no longer be allowed to officiate their wrestling matches, an online petition with 4,000 signatures is demanding that Maloney tap out of being a referee for good.
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