White referee, Alan Maloney, received a two-year suspension from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Additional officials are required to enter anti-bias training in efforts to “help prevent such discrimination in the future,” according to the state’s attorney general.
Video from the match shows 16-year-old Andrew Johnson, a Black wrestler and student at South Jersey’s Buena Regional High School, uncomfortable as a staff member cut his hair in front of the crowd before the match in December.
Johnson was wearing his headgear appropriate for competition, however, the referee stated his hair did not comply with the regulations of the New Jersey State interscholastic Athletic Decision. The referee left Johnson with an in the moment decision to cut his hair or hurt his team by forfeiting. He would agree to the cut and go on to win by sudden victory in overtime.
“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement to ABC News. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”
Grewal’s office also released “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle,” a guide that explains how treating someone in a negative way due to their hairstyle infringes on anti-discrimination laws in the state.
Rachel Wainer Apter, a division director for the civil rights division, stated the referee’s decision was a representation of “a persistent form of anti-Black racism.”
“This guidance makes clear that employers, housing providers and places of public accommodation cannot police Black hair. And the [decision] will ensure that high school athletes across the State can focus on being their best, not worrying that their hair will subject them to differential treatment based on race.”
WPVI-Philadelphia stated Maloney has been accused of calling another referee the N-word in a 2016 argument.
TMZ states Maloney is sticking with his decision was solely in alignment to rule enforcement and was not acting outside of his role as a referee. In March, he sent a letter to the NJSIAA stating he planned to file a defamation lawsuit.