New Jersey governor signs hair discrimination law year after matside haircut

Exactly one year after video of a New Jersey high school wrestler's impromptu matside haircut garnered millions of views worldwide, the state's governor, Phil Murphy, signed a bill Thursday banning discrimination in the workplace or schools based on hairstyle or texture.

The original incident which gained worldwide attention well beyond the amateur wrestling community in New Jersey involved Andrew Johnson, an African-American wrestler at Buena Regional High in Atlantic County, who had decided to have his dreadlocks cut to avoid forfeiting his match at a dual meet after a referee said Johnson could not wrestle without covering his hair.

In the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "A video of the hair-cutting went viral and prompted charges of racism and cultural insensitivity."

"Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey," Gov. Murphy said in a statement. "No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair."

With the bill's signing, New Jersey became the third state to enact such protection in 2019, joining California and New York. Thirteen other states are considering similar bills, according to advocates for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Network (CROWN), a coalition of civil rights groups. In addition, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) announced plans to introduce a federal bill that prohibits discrimination against styles such as braids, twists, or dreadlocks.

What's more, rule changes governing hair have been implemented on the collegiate and high school levels.

As InterMat reported this summer, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved removing all language in the wrestling rules book regarding the length of a college wrestler's hair.

"Wrestlers' hair still will be required to be free of oils and/or greasy substances," according to the official NCAA announcement issued on June 26. "Hair coverings still will be allowed and considered special equipment. The rule that prohibited a wrestler's hair from extending below the level of an ordinary shirt collar and the hair on the side of the head from extending below the earlobes has been eliminated."

These NCAA rule changes regarding hair are effective for the current school year.

In addition, the National Federation of High Schools has amended its 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 for two of the individuals involved in the matside haircut in December 2018 ... Andrew Johnson, now a senior at Buena Regional, wrestled his first match of the season on the first anniversary of the incident. And, in September, the referee, Alan Maloney, was suspended from officiating high school wrestling matches for two entire wrestling seasons.


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