The New Jersey high school wrestling referee who was widely criticized for making a wrestler cut his locs to avoid forfeiting a match in December has been suspended for two years.
The office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and its Division on Civil Rights announced the suspension in a press release earlier this week, noting it had concluded its investigation into the matter.
The incident was widely condemned, given the long history of Black hair discrimination.
“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” Grewal said in the release. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”
On December 19, referee Alan Maloney told 16-year-old Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson that his locs violated a student-athlete ruling that governs the length of an athlete’s hair.
That ruling has “previously been interpreted by various New Jersey wrestling officials to require a hair covering for several traditionally Black hairstyles regardless of hair length,” according to the statement, but a hair cover that met the rule’s specifications was reportedly not available on site that day.
The attorney general’s office said that in order to correct the practice of targeting traditionally Black hairstyles, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association will provide in-person trainings for rule interpreters to emphasize that hair coverings should only be required based on hair length and not style.
The association says it also aims to eliminate the perception among its referee corps that traditionally Black hairstyles like locs are “unnatural” and use that argument as a reason to enforce this particular rule.
Maloney, a white longtime wrestling referee who had previously been in the news for an accusation of racism, was suspended days after the incident while the investigation by the Division of Civil Rights was underway.
A video showing an emotional Johnson getting his hair cut before the match went viral on social media shortly after the encounter. It drew ire from celebrities such as Ava DuVernay, who said she called New Jersey Commissioner of Education Dr. Lamont Repollet to discuss the incident.
Along with the referee’s two-year suspension, New Jersey officials and staff involved with high school athletics will undergo implicit bias trainings, the announcement said.