New Jersey referee Alan Maloney forced Andrew Johnson, a young black high school wrestler, to cut off his hair mid-match, or forfeit. Not one person defended him.
In a video of the event tweeted by local sports reporter Mike Frankel, Johnson is seen standing quietly while someone cuts off his locks with scissors. Frankel framed the humiliating incident as Johnson being a “team player,” rather than as a referee with an axe to grind against African Americans unilaterally deciding that black hair wasn’t appropriate for a wrestling match.
Epitome of a team player ⬇️
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
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
The bulk of the replies to Frankel’s tweet were expressing disappointment in his lack of ability to see the underlying racism behind Maloney’s demand that Johnson cut off his hair (which was already covered) mid-match.
“What this story illustrates, above all else, is an ongoing refusal to grant black men autonomy over their own bodies,” tweeted @MilesGib.
“The team player is the one who says, ‘I would rather forfeit this match than subject my teammate to this humiliation,” @mkindc tweeted.
“She’s cutting off his HAIR! Oh my sweet Jesus!” tweeted @3chicspolitico. “My boys have LONG locs and read up on how long it takes to grow them. It’s their culture, their identity. I could WAIL!”
If you view black bodies enduring humiliation as a feel-good story, then you have some soul-searching to do, Mr. Frankel.
— gnoeyk (@gnoeyk) December 21, 2018
The team player is the one who says, "I would rather forfeit this match than subject my teammate to this humiliation."
— Matthew Kagan (@mkindc) December 21, 2018
She's cutting off his HAIR! Oh my sweet Jesus! My boys have LONG locs and read up on how long it takes to grow them. It's their culture, their identity. I could WAIL!
— 3ChicsPolitico (@3ChicsPolitico) December 21, 2018
A 2016 report from NJ.com detailed how Maloney used a racial slur in a gathering with other wrestling officials in an argument over homemade wine. Preston Hamilton, the black referee who was the target of the slur, then slammed Maloney to the ground. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association — the state organization overseeing high school sports — reportedly told the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association (NJWOA) that schools had the right to request that Maloney not be allowed to referee their matches.
Hamilton reported the incident to New Jersey Wrestling Officials Southern Chapter President Sean Felkins, according to the report, and a hearing was set up in May. The result was that Maloney agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program, and both Maloney and Hamilton would be suspended for a year – Maloney for the use of the slur and Hamilton for the assault.
Both officials appealed and both suspensions were overturned after a long process that brought into question the issue of NJWOA jurisdiction over behavior that occurred outside the arena.
Intercept columnist Shaun King tweeted out the phone number for Mark Sherman, who is the state cadet supervisor coordinator for the NJWOA. One of his followers also tweeted the phone number for Mark Beierschmitt, who is the NJWOA’s southern chapter president. Grit Post’s calls to both numbers were unsuccessful as of this writing.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.