A high school wrestling referee is facing a civil rights investigation after he reportedly forced a black student to cut off his dreadlocks or forfeit a match Wednesday in New Jersey.
Leland Moore, a spokesperson in the New Jersey attorney general's office, told BuzzFeed News the office's Division on Civil Rights launched an investigation into the "potential bias incident" on Friday.
In a now-viral video posted by SNJ Today reporter Mike Frankel Thursday, Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson was seen having his hair hastily chopped off.
Frankel reported that the referee, identified by NJ.com as Alan Maloney, would not allow Johnson to wrestle “with a cover over his dreadlocks," despite official rules stating he should have been permitted to do so, and despite his having had done so previously without incident.
Johnson, whom BuzzFeed News could not immediately reach for comment, won his match. Still, he walked off the court looking emotionally defeated.
"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."
NJ.com reported that Maloney had previously used the n-word during an argument with a black referee in 2016.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which controls high school sports, said in a statement that it would work with the state authorities during the investigation.
Larry White, the NJSIAA executive director, added that Maloney will be sidelined from matches "until this matter has been thoroughly reviewed."
"Finally, as an African-American and parent — as well as a former educator, coach, official and athlete — I clearly understand the issues at play, and probably better than most," White said. "The NJSIAA takes this matter very seriously, and I ask that everyone respect the investigatory process related to all parties involved."