Parents of New Jersey wrestler who had to cut dreadlocks thank supporters

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Parents respond to son's forced haircut. Sarah Bloomquist reports during Action News at 4:30 p.m. on December 24, 2018.

The parents of a high school wrestler whose dreadlocks were cut off after a referee told him to lose the hairstyle or forfeit his match released a statement Monday thanking those who have shown support for their son.

Charles and Rosa Johnson, the parents of 16-year-old Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, said they wanted to express immense, heartfelt gratitude for the overwhelming show of support.

"Andrew has been deeply moved by the thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support, including from an Olympic wrestler, leading civil rights advocates and elected officials, after the shocking pre-match ultimatum," the statement said. "Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity. As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew's character and the support he's received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced." The full statement is posted below.

The family's attorney, Dominic Speziali, issued the statement and suggested the impromptu hair cut was due in part to the referee's tardiness. He said Johnson had a cover over his hair, but referee Alan Maloney said that wouldn't do. Johnson won Wednesday's match but appeared visibly distraught.

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N.J. high school wrestler forced to cut locks or forfeit match. Walter Perez reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on December 22, 2018.



Speziali said Maloney didn't attend the weigh-in that day and that when Maloney evaluated the teen before the match, he didn't raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering.

"The scholastic wrestling rules clearly state that referees are to inspect wrestlers' appearance and determine any rules violations prior to the start of the meet, typically during weigh-ins," Speziali said. "The referee here was late to the meet and missed weigh-ins. When he did evaluate Andrew, he failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering."

Maloney didn't respond to a request for comment Monday. The organization that oversees the state's high school athletics announced Saturday that he won't be assigned to any matches until the incident is reviewed.

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N.J. high school wrestler forced to cut locks or forfeit match. Walter Perez reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on December 22, 2018.


Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the organization had reached out to groups that assign referees "and they've all agreed" not to assign Alan Maloney to any event until further notice

An SNJ Today reporter tweeted a video of Johnson getting his hair cut. The video was shared widely on social media, with users calling the incident "racist," ''cruel" and "humiliating."

Statement of the parents of Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson

Buena, NJ (December 24, 2018) - Charles and Rosa Johnson, the parents of 16-year-old Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson, who last week was unexpectedly forced by a referee to have his dreadlocks cut or forfeit his match, today expressed immense, heartfelt gratitude for the overwhelming show of support for their son. Andrew has been deeply moved by the thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support--including from an Olympic wrestler, leading civil rights advocates, and elected officials--after the shocking pre-match ultimatum.

Dominic A. Speziali, Esq., of the J. Fine Law Group, the family's attorney, said that they are awaiting the results of an inquiry by the N.J. Division of Civil Rights and that the referee's conduct appears more egregious as additional information comes to light.

Mr. Speziali stated, "The scholastic wrestling rules clearly state that referees are to inspect wrestlers' appearance and determine any rules violations prior to the start of the meet, typically during weigh-ins. The referee here was late to the meet and missed weigh-ins. When he did evaluate Andrew, he failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a head covering."

He added that the referee later informed Nate Johnson, Andrew's younger brother and teammate, that they would both need to wear a head covering or face disqualification.

As Andrew took to the mat to start his match, the referee examined and rejected the head covering he was wearing. In prior matches at a tournament the weekend before, Andrew was permitted to wrestle without issue, a fact that his coaches conveyed to the referee when pleading on his behalf. Andrew then requested he be allowed to push his hair back as he did the weekend prior, but the referee again refused because "it wasn't in its natural state," referring to the dreadlocks as "braids."

Andrew was visibly shaken after he and his coaches made every effort to satisfy the referee short of having his hair cut. But, as captured on video, the unyielding referee gave Andrew 90 seconds to either forfeit his match or cut his hair. Under duress but without any influence from the coaching staff or the athletic trainer, Andrew decided to have his hair cut rather than forfeit the match.

"As the trainer is cutting Andrew's hair in the middle of the gym, the referee is behind them directing her to keep cutting until he was satisfied with the length," Speziali said.

Despite the referee's outrageous conduct, Andrew and his family remain committed to Buena's wrestling program, the athletic trainer, and his coaches, who have coached him since he was 5 years old.
"As this matter is further investigated, the family wants to be clear that they are supportive of Andrew's coaches and the team's athletic trainer," Speziali emphasized. "The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression."

Charles and Rosa Johnson added, "Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity. As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew's character and the support he's received from the community. We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced."

We request that the public and media respect the family's privacy at this time.


(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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