The parents of the 16-year-old black varsity wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks before a match have spoken out for the first time since the incident.
Charles and Rosa Johnson, speaking through their attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, said in a Monday statement that the conduct of the referee who forced their son, Andrew, to cut his hair “appears more egregious as additional information comes to light.”
An emergency meeting has been scheduled to discuss ‘personnel matters’ in the New Jersey town where a teenage wrestler was forced to cut his dreadlocks before a match.
Video of the referee demanding Andrew Johnson cut his dreads or forfeit the match went viral last week sparking accusations of racism.
Johnson won the match but lost his hair because the ref said it violated rules.
In a statement early this week, the family expressed ‘gratitude’ for the overwhelming show of support for their son, saying he was ‘under duress’ and ‘visibly shaken’ after a referee gave him 90 seconds to either forfeit his match or cut his hair.
The Johnson family attorney now says the ref, Alan Maloney, showed up late to the match and missed weigh-ins, where the wrestlers are inspected.
The family says the referee said Andrew would “need to wear a head covering or face disqualification.”
The family says the referee “rejected the head covering” Andrew was wearing and issued the ultimatum.
Andrew’s parents said in the statement that wrestling taught him “to be resilient in the face of adversity.”
“As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community,” they said.
“The blame here rests primarily with the referee,” Speziali says in the statement, “and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression.”
In previous matches in a tournament a week before, Speziali said Andrew wrestled without any issues.
According to the NFHS wrestling rulebook, a wrestler’s hair cannot fall below the top of a shirt collar in the back, below his earlobes on the sides, or below his eyebrows.
If it is longer than the rule allows, the wrestler has to braid his hair or hide it beneath a hair cover attached to his ear guards, the rulebook states.
New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Executive Director Larry White said in a statement that state authorities are investigating the incident.
Johnson’s very public haircut made waves.
Chance the Rapper labeled the incident “bogus” and Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs said it’s “sickening.”
“I know as a young black man, and how much my hair meant to me,” Burroughs said.
New Jersey Sports officials say they have opened a civil rights investigation, sidelining with Maloney, who’s had previous brushes with controversy.
A New Jersey paper reported in 2016 that he called a fellow ref a racial slur.
Maloney later apologized.
He hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Now a school community is wrestling with the ref’s fate.
Not only is Buena School Board set to meet tonight, but tomorrow night will see the first wrestling match since the incident.
Everyone’s going to be watching to see if Johnson wrestles tomorrow under a glaring media spotlight.