(Reuters) – A New Jersey high school referee was suspended after a video showed a black wrestler being forced to have his hair cut before a bout after being told he would have to forfeit the match if he refused, according to state athletic officials on Saturday.
The video, which was uploaded on Twitter on Thursday by a reporter from SNJ Today newspaper, showed Andrew Johnson of Buena Regional High School in Buena, New Jersey, getting his dreadlocks hairstyle cut off by a school official. Moments later, Johnson, who is black, won his match against his opponent.
A referee named Alan Maloney, who is white, apparently had ordered Johnson to cut off his hair, according to local media reports. The clip went viral on Friday, with many social media users condemning the school for allowing Maloney to make the order, calling it racist and discriminatory.
“Deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson, a student at Buena Regional H.S., was forced to choose between keeping his dreadlocks and competing in a wrestling tournament,” wrote New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a democrat, on Twitter. “No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
Larry White, the executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), said the incident would be investigated by the New Jersey Civil Rights division and the referee would not be assigned to future high school wrestling events in New Jersey until the review is complete.
“NJSIAA can confirm that those groups that assign high school wrestling referees in New Jersey will not assign the referee in question until this matter has been thoroughly reviewed,” White said in a statement on Saturday. “This will help to avoid disruption of events for student athletes.”
A representative from the New Jersey Civil Rights division did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jordan Burroughs, an Olympic champion wrestler, commended Johnson on Twitter for cutting his hair to win the match for his team, but expressed his anger over the referee’s order, calling it sickening, racist and an abuse of power.
Maloney had come under fire in 2016 after he was accused of using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper. Maloney told the paper that he did not remember using the word.
Maloney could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish