Charles and Rosa Johnson, who are the parents of the teen varsity wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks on live TV before a match, have finally decided to speak out. In late December 2018, a video went viral and caused an uproar.
In the clip, Andrew Johnson, a 16-year-old African-American athlete, who is part of the Buena Regional High School varsity wrestling team, gets humiliated as the referee, Alan Maloney, gives him an ultimatum -- cut his hair or forfeit the match.
With his teammates cheering him on, Andrew, who appears frustrated, chooses to have his hair cut and goes on to win the match. The referee declined to comment on the story.
However, a reporter, who was present during the incident, said that the referee told Andrew that his hair and headgear were not in compliance with league regulations.
Andrew attempted to push his hair back, but the referee refused and said the hair "wasn't in its natural state."
The Johnsons addressed the matter through their attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, who said the conduct of the referee "appears more egregious as additional information comes to light."
The statement went on to say: "As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew's character and the support he's received from the community. The blame here rests primarily with the referee, and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression."
New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Executive Director Larry White said that state authorities are investigating the incident.
White made it clear that the referee will not be moderating matches until the incident "has been thoroughly reviewed."
Mr. White concluded by: "Finally, as an African-American and parent -- as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete -- I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most."
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also shared his thoughts on the scandal while showing support for Johnson in a tweet that read: “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.No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
Did race play a role in the referee's behavior?