Last Wednesday, a Buena Regional High School wrestler was forced to cut his dreadlocks – or forfeit his match.
A reporter tweeted a video of the high school’s trainer chopping Johnson’s locks, calling him “the epitome of a team player.”
The story went viral. National media immediately took note as tweets poured in criticizing the referee who gave Johnson the ultimatum, many calling it a racist moment.
“This is not about hair,” the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU, “This is about race.”
Reports of a 2016 incident, in which the referee, Alan Maloney, called a black referee a racial epithet and was subsequently slammed to the ground, added to that sentiment.
“Deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson, a student at Buena Regional H.S., was forced to choose between keeping his dreadlocks and competing in a wrestling tournament,” said Governor Phil Murphy on Twitter. “No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
Maloney was suspended over the weekend while the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and the state Division of Civil Rights investigates the incident.
On Monday – in a statement from their attorney Johnson's parents said the national outrage has heartened their son.
"Andrew has been deeply moved by the thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support," the statement read.
Below are some of the reactions to the story from around the country.
once seen a person required to cut their hair during a match. This is nonsense. As a referee, you are required to check the hair and nails of all wrestlers BEFORE a match. My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
The video going around of the young wrestler being forced to have his dreadlocks cut has disturbed me so much I've had a hard time expressing it. So all I'll say instead is wear your long and locked hair proudly, young people of colour.— Waubgeshig Rice (@waub) December 22, 2018
When will we stop criminalizing our kids and depriving them of opportunity because of their identities? Andrew shouldnt have to make the choice of cutting his hair or forfeiting his match. Someone should have had his back. This is New Jersey, in 2018. https://t.co/tmDfcFtkSc— Amol Sinha (@AmolSinha) December 21, 2018
Okay coming from a past wrestler, there are regulations on hair in matches. It’s not just because he’s black and has dreadlocks. If he was white and had hair that long, they’d still make him cut it. Stop trying to make everything about race. https://t.co/GkWgSQSf2R— micah (@Micah_Leee) December 21, 2018
The othering of us ‘it was not actually the cap that was considered problematic but the “unnatural” state of Johnson’s hair. Perhaps it was the dreadlocks that Maloney had a problem with and, as we often see, wanted white standards of hair to be the norm.’ https://t.co/qDPF3b0ZC6— Leslie Thomas (@_lesliethomas) December 24, 2018
I have over 40 yrs as a wrestler, parent, coach, referee, and fan. Unless you know the rules pertaining to hair in HS wrestling and the exact circumstances of this incident you cannot judge fault. I personally told 5 kids to cut their hair last Saturday alone. Am I a monster?— Rob Bowman (@sd_stripes) December 24, 2018