The incident has sparked questions about why the teen was called out for his hair, and many believe the color of the wrestler's skin influenced the referee's decision.
The referee, Alan Maloney, told Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson he needed to cut his hair or forfeit the match.
A video shows a trainer chop off the high school junior's dreadlocks. Johnson would then go on to win his match.
This is not the only incident that calls Maloney's racial biases into question: In 2016, Maloney reportedly called a fellow referee the N-word during an argument at a post-wrestling tournament event.
Maylin Bauza goes to school with Johnson and said her mom believes that Maloney went too far.
"His hair has always been like that, so for them to now bring it up is out of line," Bauza said.
Others argued that Maloney was only sticking to rules about hair.
"I just believe that the rules are the rules and that if his hair was below it should be, then he had to cut his hair. I don't think it was a racial issue," said Vineland resident Gina Fiocchi.
Well, the official rule states: "If an individual has hair longer than allowed, it must be contained in a legal hair cover that is attached to the ear guards. The wrestler opting to wear a legal hair cover must wear it to the weigh-in procedure."
Johnson reportedly had headgear but not necessarily the exact kind needed.
"I don't think it was right. I don't wanna put racists out there, but I don't think it was right," said Tekaya Potts of Buena Vista Township. "A person expresses themselves in different ways, and everybody is different."
Now the state's governing body is investigating the incident, and they released a statement Friday afternoon, which reads:
"Regarding a situation concerning a Buena Regional High School (Buena, NJ) varsity wrestler and a wrestling referee, the NJSIAA has been in direct contact with school officials and is now awaiting official incident reports. A report also has been requested from the referee involved. In addition - and as per its formal sportsmanship policy - the NJSIAA has provided initial information to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and will continue to send updates as they become available.
"Regulations regarding hair length and legal hair covers for wrestlers are provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). At this point, the NJSIAA is working to determine the exact nature of the incident and whether an infraction occurred.
"Complaints against officials are heard first by the officials' association, and then can be appealed to the NJSIAA Controversies Committee. As a precautionary measure, given the degree of attention being focused on this matter, the NJSIAA will recommend to chapter officials that the referee in question not be assigned to any event until this matter has been reviewed more thoroughly in order to avoid potential distractions for the competing wrestlers."
So for the foreseeable future, Maloney will not be refereeing matches while the NJSIAA investigates.
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