High School Wrestler's Hair Remains 'Unrelenting Fixation' for Officials

Andrew Johnson, a wrestler attending Buena Regional High School in New Jersey, was forced by referee Alan Maloney to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match, which sparked outrage around the country last month. This week, another referee wanted Johnson to cover his now shorter hair for a match.

Dominic Speziali, the Johnson family’s lawyer, said wrestling officials have an “unrelenting fixation” on the teen’s hair. After the Dec. 19 incident, detailed in a video that went viral on social media, Johnson’s hair continues to be a subject of debate.

Racist Ref makes Wrestler cut dreads or lose – Andrew Johnson forced to cut his Locs by Alan Maloney


Speziali wrote in a letter to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights that the 16-year-old was supposed to partake in a wrestling meet with his team against Absegami High School on Wednesday. However, a referee contacted Buena’s athletic director and “advised a day before the match, and without even seeing Andrew that he planned to require Andrew to wear a hair covering if he intended on wrestling.”

Following the correspondence between the schools, Speziali said the match was “abruptly canceled without explanation, and to the dismay of Andrew and conceivably his teammates, who, like all wrestlers, must prepare and sacrifice in the lead up to every match.”

Speziali said a New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) wrestling official allegedly sent out an email with pictures indicating the hairstyles, which would need coverings during matches.

The email included a photo of “a young Black man with a short twist out (a similar hairstyle to that of Andrew’s after his hair was cut),” he said.

“The motivation behind the NJSIAA’s email reinterpreting the applicable rules isn’t clear, but it does not appear to be based on any known, or even alleged, safety issues,” Speziali wrote.

Johnson actually participated in a tournament on Saturday “without wearing a hair covering and without any referee raising an issue about his hair,” Speziali noted.

He added: “Whether hair length or hair type, what was once acceptable in four wrestling matches just four days ago at Williamstown and even acceptable to Alan Maloney on December 19 after Andrew was forced to cut his hair became unacceptable to New Jersey officials at some point earlier this week, resulting in their new interpretation of the applicable rule that was fully reversed by the national governing body within 48 hours.”

Buena Regional School District Superintendent David Cappuccio Jr. released a letter on Thursday explaining that a rule about hairstyles and hair length for wrestlers wasn’t clear, which led to the cancellation of the match.

“Without written clarification relative to the interpretation of (the rule), I was not willing to allow our student-athletes to be subjected to any potential dispute, embarrassment, or misapplication of the rule,” Cappuccio wrote.

He said the district received a written statement from National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) wrestling rules interpreter that clarifies the rule is “solely based on length, not style” of hair.

“Given our receipt of this information, it is our intent for our team to re-engage in competition immediately,” Cappuccio wrote.

Speziali wrote in his letter that Johnson just wants things to be like they were prior to Maloney outrageously forcing him to cut his hair.

“Andrew, his family, and, I would venture to say, the entire Buena wrestling team all desire to return to how things were before Alan Maloney’s actions set this chaotic atmosphere in motion,” he said.

Maloney was suspended following the incident. An investigation by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association as well as the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights is currently underway.

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