The racial slur-spewing New Jersey high school wrestling referee who forced a black student to cut his dreadlocks has been suspended for at least two years after a civil rights investigation resulted in implicit bias training, a legal warning from the NJ Attorney General and a rule change for black athletes across the state.
In December, WPVI reported that wrestling referee Alan Maloney gave 16-year-old Buena High School student Andrew Johnson an ultimatum: Lop off your locs right now or forfeit your wrestling match. After Maloney told Johnson that his headgear covering his hair was not in compliance with New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, a video went viral showing a woman cutting the teen’s hair with a pair of dollar-store scissors usually reserved for creating high art turkeys after you’ve traced your hand on a piece of construction paper in third grade.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) also announced that Maloney would be suspended for the next two wrestling seasons. Furthermore, everyone in the state involved with wrestling will undergo implicit bias training
According to NJ.com, Maloney had previously faced scrutiny for using a racial slur at a gathering of wrestling officials in 2016. And by “scrutiny,” we mean “the floor,” after Preston Hamilton, a black ref, “slammed Maloney to the ground over the remark.”
The investigation revealed that Maloney said Johnson’s locs were “abrasive and altered” and therefore were a ”hindrance to his opponent,” adding that Johnson’s hair was “not in its natural state.” A volunteer coach told Maloney: “I don’t know why you’re making him do this, his hair isn’t too long.”
“It’s not the length,” Maloney replied. “His hair is unnatural.”
Johnson was reportedly afraid that he would have to forfeit the match, which would hurt his team, so he followed the ref’s orders. Then, according to documents obtained by The Root, Maloney instructed a trainer to “Cut until I say so” or “Cut until I say it’s good.”
In response, the NJSIAA removed the portion of its rulebook that requires student’s hair to be “trimmed,” “well-groomed” and “in its natural state.”
“The term ‘well-groomed’ is extremely subjective and there is no standard to meet such an arbitrary expectation,” explained the rulebook’s “rationale” section. “Hair that is manipulated poses no threat to either wrestler.”
The DCR also issued a new “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle” to enunciate the State’s position on hairstyle-based discrimination, with a particular focus on hairstyles closely associated with black people.
The memo reads, in part:
Discrimination that is ostensibly based on hair can inflict the very kinds of harms and “personal hardships” that the LAD highlights as consequences of discrimination, including “economic loss; time loss; physical and emotional stress; and in some cases severe emotional trauma … or other irreparable harm resulting from the strain of employment controversies. Therefore, just as it would likely violate the LAD to refuse to hire an Orthodox Jewish man because he wears payot, or to refuse to hire a Muslim woman because she wears a hijab, or to refuse to hire a Sikh person because they wear uncut hair, it is unlawful to refuse to hire or to otherwise treat a Black person differently because they wear their hair in a style that is closely associated with being Black.
That means that as a general matter, employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation covered by the LAD—including schools—may not enforce grooming or appearance policies that ban, limit, or restrict hair styled into twists, braids, cornrows, Afros, locs, Bantu knots, fades, or other hairstyles closely associated with Black racial, cultural, and ethnic identity. Any policy specifically singling out such a hairstyle will generally constitute direct evidence of disparate treatment under the LAD and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race. In addition, hair-related policies that are facially neutral—such as requirements to maintain a “professional” or “tidy” appearance—will likely violate the LAD if they are discriminatorily applied or selectively enforced against Black people.
“The results of the DCR’s investigation leaves no doubt that repeatedly disgraced referee Alan Maloney was flat-out wrong in his abhorrent treatment of Andrew,” Johnson’s attorney, Dominic A. Speziali, said in a statement. “The DCR also concluded that one of the justifications Maloney gave to investigators for requiring Andrew to cut his hair—the existence of “tape or rubber bands in his hair”—was later “demonstrated to be false.”