Update (September 18, 2019): New Jersey wrestling referee Alan Maloney will be allowed to return to the sport in just two years after forcing a Black athlete to cut off his dreadlocks during a competition in December.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced the weak punishment in a statement on Wednesday.
"Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
“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," Grewal continued.
Grewal and other New Jersey officials tried to address criticism of the tepid decision saying they were also mandating attendance for implicit bias training for all officials and staff involved in high school athletics across the state.
In their statement, state officials made it clear to New Jersey sports officials they could not use hair rules to unfairly discriminate against Black athletes.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights added that it is illegal to have “grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit or restrict hairstyles closely associated with being Black, including, but not limited to, twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, locs, Bantu knots, and fades.”
The situation was exacerbated by Maloney’s history of racism. He was suspended from refereeing for one year after calling Black referee Preston Hamilton the n-word. He apologized at the time, accepted his punishment and agreed to go to sensitivity training.
Despite the light punishment again, Maloney is threatening to sue the state this time for emotional distress and defamation.
Black people were incensed when a video went viral in December showing Maloney demanding 16-year-old Andrew Johnson to cut off his dreadlocks in order to compete in a New Jersey wrestling competition. Johnson was competing for Buena Regional High School in Atlantic County.
Maloney told Johnson his hair violated certain guidelines and that he would have to cut the locs off or forfeit the match, costing his high school a chance to win. Not wanting to let his team down, Johnson allowed his teammates to cut his dreadlocks off.
Epitome of a team player ⬇️
A referee wouldn't allow Andrew Johnson of Buena @brhschiefs to wrestle with a cover over his dreadlocks. It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit. Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win. pic.twitter.com/f6JidKNKoI
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelJSZ) December 20, 2018
The video was initially shared in sports circles as a valiant display of sacrifice and team spirit. The tide quickly turned once the video reached a national audience and thousands of Black people slammed the referee for blatant racism.
“No-loc bans are designed to oppress and shame Black people not just for expressing Blackness, but *for* their Blackness. They have no place in our society and certainly not in our schools. Until we can abolish these discriminatory practices and norms, we are all complicit,” the New Jersey branch of the ACLU said in a statement at the time.
The video started a much larger discussion about the many ways Black people are penalized for having different hair textures and styles. Many Twitter users commiserated with Johnson and told their own stories of being forced to change their hair in order to get, or even keep, jobs.
“Discrimination against Black people because of their hair, which is often based on stereotypes that traditionally Black hairstyles are ’unprofessional‘ or ’unkempt,’ is a persistent form of anti-Black racism,” said New Jersey Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter.
“This guidance makes clear that employers, housing providers and places of public accommodation cannot police Black hair. And the MOA will ensure that high school athletes across the State can focus on being their best, not worrying that their hair will subject them to differential treatment based on race.”
Original: A New Jersey referee who made headlines for requesting a high school athlete cut his dreads before a match is now suing for defamation and emotional distress.
Last year, veteran referee Alan Maloney instructed high school wrestler Andrew Johnson to cut his dreads before allowing him to compete in a December match. Video of the incident went viral and sparked outrage nationwide, as Blavity reported.
Later that month, Maloney was sidelined from all games by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. The Buena Regional Board of Education found Maloney's actions intolerable, stating that the organization and the New Jersey school district would "not compete in any contest officiated by this referee from this point forward."
Now, the New York Daily News reports Maloney has filed a claim in response to this ruling against 12 possible defendants, including the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and Buena School District officials and coaches.
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In his claim, Maloney claims he did nothing wrong and was merely enforcing a longstanding rule. He's asking for $100,000 in damages, citing allegations of defamation, emotional distress and loss of income.
“I think he's just covering his bases,” said Johnson's attorney, Dominic Speziali, in response to the claim. “To the extent that he plans to file a claim as a victim in this incident is outright absurd.”
According to The Morning Call, Speziali has pushed back against the idea Maloney was following a rule, arguing Johnson should have been allowed to continue wrestling “as he did just four days earlier — without a hair covering, without having to first cut his hair and without Maloney’s unjustified interference.”
The official consequences for Maloney's actions have not yet been determined as a probe continues within the Division on Civil Rights and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. The investigation had been delayed for three months so as not to interrupt the remainder of the wrestling season.
Maloney ordering Johnson to cut his dreadlocks wasn't the first time he'd run into trouble for alleged racial insensitivity. In 2016, he was suspended for calling a Black colleague "n****r" at a social event. He had to undergo sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program following the incident.
With Maloney sidelined, Johnson has excelled in his sport. The junior high school student recently advanced to the coveted Region 8 tournament after completing his wrestling season with 19 wins.
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