A necessary move, but more questions still remain unanswered.
By now we’ve all seen the outrageous video of NJ high school wrestler, Andrew Johnson, being coerced by referee Alan Maloney to cut his dreads or forfeit the match.
It’s disturbing and maddening on so many levels. Watching a 16-year old child of color being intimidated and pressured into cutting his dreads so he could compete and so his team wouldn’t lose is something no one should be forced to watch, be subjected to or participate in.
This week, the NJ school district that Andrew Johnson competes in took a step to prevent all of these things from happening again.
In an emergency meeting, 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. “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.”
Cappuccio continued, saying that he informed the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) that “the school district and its athletic teams will not compete in any contest officiated by this referee from this point forward.”
He also noted that Maloney was not an employee of the district so they had no power over his employment at future events. A few days after the incident, the Johnson family issued a statement through their attorney, Dominic A. Speziali.
The family of NJ high school wrestler Andrew Johnson has issued a statement on the outrageous, disturbing and embarrassing cutting of their son's dreadlocks, demanded by a ref in order for him to wrestle (h/t @shaunking ) pic.twitter.com/WyevSbsQhN
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) December 24, 2018
“As this matter is further investigated, the family wants to be clear that they are supportive of Andrew’s coaches and the team’s athletic trainer,” said Speziali. “The blame rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression.”
There has been an outpouring of both outrage over the incident and support for Johnson, from strangers to athletes including Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, who took to Twitter to express his thoughts on the issue and provide some personal insight on “wrestling while Black.”
As of today, the investigations continue.
Larry White, Executive Director of the NJSIAA, stated that Maloney won’t be assigned to any further matches during their investigation. “As an African-American and parent — as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete — I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most,” said White.
Also involved is the office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, whose civil rights division opened an investigation into the incident after the video surfaced and outcry erupted. According to CNN, the office’s investigation “will be part of a 2013 agreement with the NJSIAA ‘to address potential bias in high school sports.'”
CNN reported that Andrew did not wrestle in, or attend, Buena Regional High School’s wrestling match Thursday night. And while we await the results of these investigations, many questions remain.
If he wrestled with dreadlocks previously, why was he prohibited at that moment?
The team followed the rule book and covered his dreads, so what was the real reason behind the referee’s demand?
Coaches are supposed to protect and stand up for their athletes, so why wouldn’t they walk off the mat in protest after the ref’s demand?
Why would adults subject a minor, especially one of color, to that type of humiliation?
Is winning more important than the dignity of a young teenager?
We will keep you updated on this ongoing situation, one that extends much further than just sports.