Andrew Johnson getting his locks cut (273481)
Credit: Twitter/@MikeFrankelSNJ

The white referee who forced a Black high school wrestler to cut his locks in order to participate in a match in New Jersey has been suspended for two years following a civil rights investigation.

The decision was announced by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights. The Division also issued a new “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle” to explain how treating people differently due to their hairstyle may violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws and to help prevent such discrimination in the future. It also clarifies that policies that ban, limit or restrict hairstyles closely associated with being Black or having Black ancestry—including twists and locs—may violate New Jersey law.

“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” Grewal said in a statement. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”

The incident occurred last December at Buena Regional High School in Atlantic County, N.J. when Andrew Johnson, 16, was preparing to compete in a championship match when white referee Alan Maloney told Johnson to cut his hair. Maloney cited that the hair’s length violated athletic regulations and that Johnson would have to cut it or forfeit the match.

The teen agreed to cut his locks and a white female coach wearing rubber gloves cut handfuls of hair using shears. The incident was caught on video by SNJ Today News sport editor Mike Frankel, who posted it to Twitter. The video went viral getting millions of views. Johnson competed in the match and won.

Maloney has a checkered past when it comes to race relations. He called a Black referee a racial slur at a party in 2016. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association pulled Maloney from officiating any matches as the investigation continues.

The NJSIAA announced that it has agreed to provide in-person training to all of its local Rules Interpreters and to all wrestling officials in the state emphasizing that Rule 4.2.1 is based solely on hair length, not on hair style. NJSIAA will provide implicit bias training to all high school sports officials in New Jersey and will require NJSIAA member schools to provide such training to all athletic administrators, coaches and athletic trainers who work in high school sports. DCR will collaborate with NJSIAA on the trainings.