In December of 2018, we all watched the infuriating video of New Jersey high school wrestler, Andrew Johnson, being forced to have his dreadlocks cut in order to compete in his match.
The humiliation was forced upon him by referee Alan Maloney, someone who was involved in a prior racially charged incident at a wresting event back in 2016.
Telling wrestler Andrew Johnson to cut his dreads or he wouldn't be able to compete is horrendous. It's racism, intimidation, ignorance, disrespect, embarrassment and belittling all rolled into one ([email protected] )
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) December 21, 2018
After the video of Johnson’s humiliation went viral, support flooded in for the teenager from everywhere, including his hometown of Buena Vista, NJ, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division on Civil Rights.
The Buena Regional Board of Education decided that it would not send its sports teams to any events where Maloney would be officiating.
“We have viewed the video footage that has gone viral and are deeply troubled by the embarrassment and humiliation our young student-athlete endured,” said David C. Cappuccio Jr., superintendent of the Buena Regional School District, at the time. “District administration has been working diligently around the clock for the past several days collecting as much info as possible about the sequence of events occurring this past December 19.”
In addition, Cappuccio informed the NJSIAA that “the school district and its athletic teams will not compete in any contest officiated by this referee from this point forward.”
Maloney responded by filing a lawsuit, saying that he had lost money since the incident and he was suffering from emotional distress.
Now, nine months later, the case has resurfaced as decisions have been rendered.
In an agreement made between the state of New Jersey and the NJSIAA, it’s been decided that Maloney will be suspended for two seasons.
This agreement, per the Philly Tribune, also calls for “implicit bias training for officials and staff involved in high school sports statewide by June 2021.”
“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in a press release. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”
In addition, the civil right’s division laid out new rules on racial discrimination based upon hairstyle, which warns “treating people differently due to their hairstyle” may violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws. This goes along with the recent decisions by states such as California and New York, which have banned the discrimination of Black hairstyles.
“We hope students can be free to focus on doing their best and not worrying that their hair will subject them to differential treatment based on race,” said Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. “And we hope that all people in New Jersey can feel free to live and work without fear that they will be discriminated against because of their hairstyle.”
Dominic A. Speziali, attorney for Andrew Johnson, issued a statement in response to the decision handed down by the two parties, part of which is below.
“The Attorney General Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights are to be commended for their thorough investigation and in boldly reaffirming that unlawful discrimination in New Jersey cannot hide behind hair-based pretexts.
With today’s announcement, we hope that no athlete going forward will be forced to sacrifice their identity for the opportunity to compete.”
Although Andrew Johnson was involuntarily thrust into the spotlight by Maloney’s racist demand, it’s good to see that this incident resulted in a decision that will prevent this type of humiliation from happening again.