For the first time since he was pressured by a white referee to cut his dreadlocks before a New Jersey dual meet, high school wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, returned to the mat Saturday.
NJ.com reported Johnson did not wear a hair cover for his now-short dreadlocks during Saturday’s loss to Clayton/Glassboro state qualifier Jaden Hinton. Video of Johnson having his hair cut before a match went viral in December, leading to widespread condemnation of referee Alan Maloney, who was accused of harboring racist motivations when he told Johnson he needed to cut his hair in order to compete.
“I’m still not allowed to comment about (the hair-cutting incident),” Buena coach George Maxwell told NJ.com. “But I liked the way (Johnson) battled. He hasn’t wrestled (in 16 days) and this was one of the only matches he wrestled this year. He had a couple at Southern and Oakcrest and that was it. As far as the way he wrestled, I was encouraged.”
Johnson did not participate in the Hunterdon Central Invitational on Dec. 27 to avoid media attention, and a match this past Thursday was postponed, NJ.com reported. His story garnered nationwide attention and led high-profile wrestlers and public officials, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, to offer public support.
Johnson and his mother, Rosa, declined to comment publicly after Saturday’s appearance.
Maloney, meanwhile, 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.”
Maloney was also involved in a 2016 incident in which 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.