(Reuters) – A lawyer for a high school wrestler who was pressured into cutting his dreadlocks by a referee last week said on Monday that the referee was late to the match and should have raised the issue of hair length hours earlier.
The New Jersey Division of Civil Rights has launched a probe into the conduct of referee Alan Maloney, who is white, after he apparently told 16-year-old Andrew Johnson of Buena Vista Regional High School in New Jersey, who is black, he had to cut his hair or forfeit his wrestling match just moments before the match began.
Maloney could not be reached for comment on Monday.
“The scholastic wrestling rules clearly state that referees are to inspect wrestlers’ appearance and determine any rules violations prior to the start of the meet, typically during weigh-ins,” Dominic Speziali, a lawyer representing Johnson and his parents, said in a statement.
“The referee here was late to the meet and missed weigh-ins. When he did evaluate Andrew, he failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering,” Speziali said.
Johnson’s hair had not presented an issue at a wrestling tournament the week prior, which his coaches told Maloney at the time, Speziali said.
A video that showed Johnson having his dreadlocks snipped by a school official went viral after it was uploaded to Twitter on Thursday by a reporter from SNJ Today newspaper.
Larry White, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said on Saturday that Maloney would not be assigned to future high school wrestling events until the state’s civil rights investigation is complete.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler