ROBBINSVILLE — The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is conducting its own investigation of the incident in which a Buena Regional High School wrestler had his dreadlocks cut rather than forfeit a match.
NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White confirmed the investigation after the agency’s executive committee meeting Wednesday morning.
“This is ongoing, and I really can’t say much,” White said. “We’re getting information. We’re still in the process of trying to flesh it out.”
The NJSIAA, which governs most New Jersey high school sports, also referred the matter to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
“We’ve turned it over to them,” NJSIAA attorney Steve Goodell said, “and we are investigating as well.”
The incident occurred Dec. 19 during Buena’s dual meet against Oakcrest.
Referee Alan Maloney allegedly would not allow Buena wrestler Andrew Johnson to compete with a cover over his hair. Maloney reportedly said Johnson either had to have his hair cut or forfeit his match.
Maloney is white, and Johnson is black.
Johnson resumed wrestling last weekend after a month break.
Buena was scheduled to host Absegami in a dual meet Wednesday, but the match was canceled earlier in the day. A potential future date for the match was not announced.
White said Maloney has not officiated an NJSIAA match since Dec. 19. Neither Johnson nor Maloney has commented publicly on the matter.
Video of the Buena trainer cutting Johnson’s dreadlocks went viral.
The video was later shown on TMZ.com, SI.com and other websites. Commenters — including notable figures such as Chance the Rapper, director Ava DuVernay and Gov. Phil Murphy — were outraged by what they regarded as an act of overt racism.
Goodell said the NJSIAA is gathering information from as many sources as possible, and the investigation is confidential.
“Just for an example,” White said, “we got a report from the Oakcrest coach.”
The NJSIAA refers all potential bias incidents to the state Division of Civil Rights.
“It was reported in the media as being a bias incident,” Goodell said. “We’re not going to be a gatekeeper as to determine what and what not should be sent (to the Division of Civil Rights). If there are allegations of a bias incident, we turn that over.”
White said the NJSIAA also has reached out to the National Federation of State High School Associations for clarification on the rule governing hair length and wrestling.
According to the rules of the federation, a wrestler’s hair “shall extend no lower than the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back, shall not extend lower than earlobe level on the sides, and shall not extend below the eyebrows in the front.
“Hair that does not conform to the rule shall be contained in a legal hair covering or the wrestler shall not compete. For hair coverings to be legal they must be worn under the headgear, or be part of the headgear, and be of a solid material that is not abrasive.”
“One of the things that is apparent is perhaps the rule is not being adjudicated properly,” White said. “We’ve reached out to Elliot Hopkins, who is the NFHS wrestling rule book editor, to really get clarification.”
White said he could not comment on how strictly the state’s wrestling officials were enforcing the hair length rule.
“With any rule and with humans,” he said, “there can always be one or two officials that may say, ‘I’m not going to adjudicate the rule.’”
White said there is no timetable for the conclusion of the NJSIAA investigation.
“We can’t comment on what’s going to come out of it,” White said. “We’ll be able to tell you that after we’ve had the investigation.”
Buena Regional was schedule to host Absegami in a dual meet Wednesday, but the match was canceled earlier in the day. A potential future date for the match was not announced.