After a deeply disturbing video surfaced showing a Black wrestler getting his dreadlocks chopped off after a white referee ordered it in an ultimatum that made him chose between his hair or losing a match, wrestling and mixed-martial arts community figures along with African-American leaders have come out in support of the high school athlete, The Washington Post reports.
Andrew Johnson, a junior at Buena Regional High School in southern New Jersey, was forced to choose between competing in a wrestling match or have his locks cut after the ref Alan Maloney told him his hair reportedly violated state athletic regulations.
Johnson was clearly upset and looked dejected as he opted for the haircut. A white woman did the duty of butchering his hair off and the video of it sent shockwaves through social media.
The haircut video also sparked outrage online after being posted on Twitter by Mike Frankel of SNJ Today News, with many suggesting that Maloney, who is white, has exhibited racist behavior in the past and calling for his immediate removal. He has since been barred from officiating, pending an investigation, school district officials said Friday.
Johnson’s mother spoke out and said it was a “brutal” experience for her son and that the incident was painful for her to watch. Meanwhile, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights issued a joint statement Saturday, announcing they would open a probe into the incident.
Support for Johnson has been overwhelming.
Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, who won a gold medal in the 165-pound weight class for the United States in the 2012 Olympic Games, commented in a Twitter thread, applauding Johnson for taking one for his team.
“The fact that with all the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment, that you were still able to stay focused and go out there and get the W for your team, I respect that about you,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs also chastised the adults in the room for standing idly by.
“You guys let him down,” he said. “The bottom line is this young man, especially a young black man in a traditionally and predominantly Caucasian sport out there defenseless, you guys got to help this young man. You’ve got to protect him. In high school, as you’re growing and you’re developing, you’re establishing who you are, you’re creating an identity. I know, as a young black man, how much my hair meant to me. And I also know, as a black man, how long it takes to grow dreads and how much discipline it takes to maintain them.”
Burroughs said he intends to send Johnson a “few cool things for Christmas.”
“I know it won’t help ease the pain,” Burroughs said, “but hopefully it gives you a little bit of love.”
Rev. Al Sharpton also chimed in and noted the cultural significance of black hair.
“Your hairstyle comes out of your culture and your preference and has nothing to do with your athletic ability,” Rev. Sharpton said at National Action Network rally in New York.
The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund tweeted: “Unfortunately, this is not first time we’ve seen a kid forced to live through a humiliating moment because someone didn’t approve of his hairstyle.”
Unfortunately, this is not first time we’ve seen a kid forced to live through a humiliating moment because someone didn’t approve of his hairstyle. Last month, we filed a complaint in Florida about discriminatory hair policies. Read the complaint: https://t.co/y6O3teGxoU https://t.co/BkT8S0nQJQ
— Legal Defense Fund (@NAACP_LDF) December 22, 2018
Filmmaker Ava Duvernay, who is known for her luscious and long dreadlocks tweeted:
I don’t just wear locs. They are a part of me. A gift to me. They mean something to me. So to watch this young man’s ordeal, wrecked me. The criminalization of what grows from him. The theft of what was his. Two hours of calls w/ officials yesterday. Two hours of heartache. https://t.co/KcVX1hBoTn
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) December 22, 2018
Mixed martial arts fighter Aljamain Sterling told TMZ Sports that he wants to train with Johnson and has tried to reach out to contact him.
Tyron Woodley, the UFC welterweight champion, told the site that he’s worn dozens of hairstyles over the years and never had to cut his hair nor cover it up.
“It just shows the sport and then people in general just don’t understand the culture,” he said. He offer these words of support to Johnson: “I respect you and I admire your ability to focus on the task at hand in a pressure situation and go out there and whoop that kid’s a–.”