Wrestler’s attorney suggests haircut because of referee’s tardiness

A lawyer for a high school wrestler whose dreadlocks were cut off after a referee told him to lose the hairstyle or forfeit minutes before his match is suggesting the impromptu hair cut was due in part to the referee’s tardiness.

Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair, but referee Alan Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do.

Johnson won Wednesday’s match but appeared visibly distraught.

Dominic Speziali issued a statement Monday in which Andrew Johnson’s parents said Maloney didn’t attend the weigh-in that day. They also say that when Maloney evaluated the teen before the match, he didn’t raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering.

Maloney didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

The organization that oversees the state’s high school athletics announced Saturday that he won’t be assigned to any matches until the incident is reviewed.

Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the organization had reached out to groups that assign referees “and they’ve all agreed” not to assign Alan Maloney to any event until further notice.

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An SNJ Today reporter tweeted a video of Johnson getting his hair cut. The video was shared widely on social media, with users calling the incident “racist,” ‘‘cruel” and “humiliating.”

In the statement issued Monday, Johnson’s parents also thanked those who have shown support for their son.

“Andrew has been deeply moved by the thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support — including from an Olympic wrestler, leading civil rights advocates and elected officials — after the shocking pre-match ultimatum,” the statement said.

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“Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity. As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced.”

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