New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy joined the public criticism of a white New Jersey referee who pressured a black high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks before a dual meet last week.
Murphy wrote on Twitter that he was “deeply disturbed” by how referee Alan Maloney treated Andrew Johnson, who wrestles for Buena Regional High School.
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. https://t.co/xfrXrpHpov
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 22, 2018
Maloney is under investigation by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, and the Press of Atlantic City reported the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association recommended to the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association that Maloney not be assigned “to any event until this matter has been reviewed more thoroughly in order to avoid potential distractions for the competing wrestlers.”
Several prominent members of the wrestling community have voiced support for Johnson. UFC fighter Aljamain Sterling told TMZ “it’s so messed up on so many levels” that Johnson was asked to lose part of his identity in order to compete. Sterling said he wants to train with Johnson and has reached out to him.
Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, a New Jersey native, used Twitter to share his thoughts on the incident. Burroughs criticized onlookers for not stepping in and preventing Johnson’s hair from being cut, writing that Johnson “should have been protected.” He added he has reached out to Johnson, too.
The ACLU of New Jersey apologized to Johnson in a tweet and added that the incident was about race, not hair.
“How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?” the organization said in the tweet. “This was discrimination, and it’s not okay,” it added.
Video of Johnson having his dreadlocks cut before he won his match has been viewed 14 million times on Twitter as of early Sunday and has sparked conversation about how the incident might fit within the larger discussion of racial inequality in the U.S.
Maloney was involved in a 2016 incident where he reportedly used a racial slur toward black colleague Preston Hamilton at a social gathering, reportedly leading Hamilton to tackle him to the ground. While both men were initially suspended by the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Southern Chapter that year, those penalties were eventually lifted upon appeal.