BUENA, N.J. — An Olympic champion wrestler has reached out to a New Jersey high school wrestler who had his dreadlocks cut off minutes before his match after a referee told him to lose the hairstyle or forfeit his bout.
Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, posted and spoke on social media early Saturday about the incident Wednesday at the Buena Regional High School match, saying he had never seen anything like it in a quarter-century of wrestling.
“This is nonsense,” a message on Burroughs’ Twitter account said. “My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.” In a video posted on Instagram, he criticized parents and coaching staff at the match for not intervening, calling it “absolutely shameful.”
A thread: I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the young man who was forced to cut his hair during a wrestling match in order to avoid being disqualified. That young man is Andrew Johnson of Buena High School in New Jersey. Let me start off by saying, I commend Andrew for— Jordan Burroughs (@alliseeisgold) December 22, 2018
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 went on to win Wednesday’s match but appeared visibly distraught.
Burroughs drew attention to his demeanor, saying, “He was hurting, and that wasn’t fair.”
Epitome of a team player ⬇️— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelJSZ) December 20, 2018
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
Burroughs called Johnson “courageous” for his performance in the match despite “all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment” and said he understood his reasons for agreeing to the haircut, although it might have been “more powerful” to walk away.
Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said Saturday the organization had reached out to leagues and conferences that assign referees “and they’ve all agreed” not to assign Maloney to any event until the matter has been reviewed.
The state attorney general’s office has confirmed an investigation by the Division on Civil Rights. The school superintendent said in a letter to the community that they support and stand by all student athletes.
Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier-Post newspaper. Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments. After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. A one-year suspension was overturned.
A woman answering the phone at a listed number for Maloney said the ordeal is being blown out of proportion and the referee was simply following rules.
Burroughs also said he hoped to be in touch with Johnson soon and promised to send him “a few cool things for Christmas.”