In a video posted by SNJ Today reporter Mike Frankel, Buena Regional High School student-athlete Andrew Johnson was seen having his hair haphazardly chopped off.
Johnson, whom BuzzFeed News could not immediately reach for comment, went on to win the match. Even so, he appeared emotionally defeated as he walked off the court.
Frankel reported that the referee forbade Johnson from wrestling “with a cover over his dreadlocks.”
“It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit,” Frankel tweeted. “Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win.”
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, it seemed as though Johnson should have been permitted to wear a head cover and not have his hair cut.
“The hair, in its natural state, shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows,” the rules state.
“If an individual has hair longer than allowed by rule, it may be braided or rolled if it is contained in a cover so that the hair rule is satisfied.”
NJ.com reported that Johnson has recently wrestled without incident.
The news outlet also reported that the referee, Alan Maloney, used the n-word in the past.
According to the Courier-Post, Maloney got into an argument with black referee Preston Hamilton in 2016, which culminated in Maloney jabbing his finger into the man’s chest and uttering the n-word.
In response, Hamilton slammed Maloney to the ground, he told the publication.
Maloney told the publication he did not remember using the racist slur, but believed the people who said he did and apologized for it:
You know, people do make mistakes and I apologized. I really don’t think this should go any further than it’s gone anyhow. … The remark was not made to him. After he told me what I said, it was pertaining to us breaking each other’s stones. … I didn’t remember it. I was told it. I believed it and said, “Yo, that ain’t me.” That’s when I called him right away and that’s when he told me we were good.
Maloney, as well as Johnson’s coach and other school officials, did not respond to requests for comment.
The video of Johnson getting his hair cut off has gone massively viral, with many people saying how painful it is to watch.
Frankel’s characterization of Johnson as the “epitome of a team player” has been criticized as an attempt to sugarcoat a racist incident as a feel-good story.
Frankel later apologized for his framing of the story, saying he was “naive” and had “missed the bigger picture.”
Many are also noting how crushed Johnson looks in the video, even after his victory.
The incident has garnered celebrity attention, with Chance the Rapper, Questlove, and Wale calling it out as racist.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also tweeted that he was "deeply disturbed" by the story.