Referee who forced high school wrestler to cut his locs gets two-year suspension

The New Jersey referee who sparked national outcry when he forced a Black wrestler to cut his dreads or forfeit a high-stakes match has been suspended from his post for two years, state officials said Wednesday.

Alan Maloney, who officiated the December 2018 match, is barred from overseeing any preseason, regular season, postseason or state tournament matches for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, per a decision reached by the Division of Civil Rights and New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

In addition to Maloney’s suspension, the ruling mandates that all officials and staff involved in high school athletics across the state undergo implicit bias training, as well as training on hair-based discrimination. The embattled ref in particular must complete the anti-bias training before he’s considered for reinstatement.

“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a statement this week. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of [the] rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play. The Division on Civil Rights’ action today makes it less likely that any student athlete will have to endure discrimination that not only undermines fair competition but also violates our state laws.”

A civil rights investigation was launched last year after the match involving varsity wrestler Andrew Johnson, a junior at Buena Regional High School at the time. Maloney, who’s white, ruled that Johnson’s dreads and headgear weren’t in compliance with the rules and, if he wished to compete, he must cut his hair.

Video of the incident showed the biracial teen looking defeated as a trainer from his school took a pair of scissors to his locs, cutting them off in chunks. The footage soon made its rounds on social media, sparking swift backlash and claims of racial bias.

As part of its decision, the Division of Civil Rights has issued a guidance on hair discrimination, or treating someone differently based on traits such as hair styles and/or textures that are “inextricably intertwined with or closely associated with race.” The guidance explains that prohibiting or restricting certain hairstyles associated with Black culture, including braids, locs and twists, may violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

In recent months, both California and New York have passed legislation outlawing discrimination based on hair.

Maloney has denied any wrongdoing in the hair-cutting scandal and argued in a legal filing in March that had “properly performed his duties as referee and fairly applied the rules governing a wrestling match.” The now-ousted official, who’s accused of using the N-word against another referee in 2016, also threatened to sue for “defamation” and “emotional distress.”

Maloney hasn’t yet commented on the state officials’ ruling.