On Wednesday, a decision was reached between the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights (DCR), stating that the referee -- Alan Maloney -- will be suspended from his mat officiating duties for two wrestling seasons. In addition, the decision requires that officials and staff involved in high school athletics across New Jersey must participate in implicit bias training.
The DCR also issued new "Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle" rules to clarify that policies banning, limiting or restricting hairstyles closely associated with those of African-American descent -- including twists and dreadlocks -- may violate existing New Jersey law.
"Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field," New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. 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 Division on Civil Rights' action today makes it less likely that any student athlete will have to endure discrimination that not only undermines fair competition but also violates our state laws."
Andrew Johnson gets a haircut before competingThe incident which launched this investigation took place at dual meet between two New Jersey schools -- Buena Regional High School and Oakcrest High -- on Wednesday, Dec. 19. As InterMat reported on Dec. 26, Andrew Johnson, a 120-pound junior for the Buena Chiefs, was ready to face off against David Flippen of Oakcrest. When Johnson, an African-American, stepped onto the mat with his dreadlocks covered, the primary mat official, Alan Maloney, 62, reportedly told the wrestler he could either have his hair cut, or forfeit the match.
An athletic trainer for Buena trimmed Johnson's dreadlocks matside with scissors until Maloney said the length of the wrestler's hair was in compliance with the rules.
After Johnson had his dreadlocks cut, the match began. Johnson earned a sudden victory, 4-2. Buena went on to win the dual.
The incident was captured on video by SJN News Today sports director Mike Frankel. The video went viral ... generating millions of views around the world, and debate well beyond the amateur wrestling community in New Jersey.
The impromptu matside haircut incident has generated lasting changes. The National Federation of High Schools to amend the hair-length rule. Rule 4-2-1 now states that hair shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows. The term "natural state" was eliminated from the rule.
As part of the Wednesday's announced agreement, the NJSIAA 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 hair style.
Furthermore, 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 by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Initial reactions to the suspension of referee Alan Maloney varied widely.
"Two years is tough," Camden (N.J.) High wrestling coach Sandy Thame told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "My concern is that we are going too far in the other direction, with knee-jerk reactions to things."
By contrast, Walter Hudson, founder of the Salem County-based National Awareness Alliance, said, "It needs to be a lifetime ban. A two-year suspension is like a slap on the wrist."
Larry White, executive director of the NJSIAA, weighed in with his assessment, saying that he was confident that the changes announced Wednesday "will ensure that a situation like this does not happen in the future."
Want to know more? Check out InterMat's coverage of the end-of-the-year incident, including an overview article "Impromptu haircut in New Jersey recap, reactions" and Caryn Ward's "Impromptu haircut not a good look for wrestling" opinion piece.