iStock(BUENA, N.J.) — A New Jersey referee who forced a black teenager to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match was suspended on Wednesday, concluding a months-long racial bias investigation.
The white referee at the center of the December incident was suspended from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association for two years and other officials were ordered to undergo anti-bias training to “help prevent such discrimination in the future,” according to the state’s attorney general.
Video of the incident sparked outrage online, showing Andrew Johnson — a 16-year-old wrestler at South Jersey’s Buena Regional High School — wincing as a gloved staff member chopped his locs on the mat. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy even tweeted about the video when it surfaced, saying “no student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”
Johnson was wearing his usual headgear and covering, but the referee said it was not in compliance with rules by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement Wednesday. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”
He said the ruling, handed down by his office’s civil rights division, “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’s office also issued new “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle” to explain how treating someone differently based on a hairstyle could violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws, according to the statement.
The guidance states that discrimination on the basis of race includes discrimination based on a trait “inextricably intertwined with or closely associated with race,” including hairstyle. It also clarifies that policies that ban, limit or restrict hairstyles closely associated with being black or having black ancestry — including twists and locs — may violate New Jersey law, the statement said.
The office did not release the referee’s name in its statement, but ABC’s Philadelphia affiliate WPVI-TV identified him as Anthony Maloney, who it said was previously accused of calling a fellow referee the N-word during an argument in 2016.
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