New allegations of racism have surfaced against New Jersey referee Alan Maloney, who has been sidelined since a Buena Regional High School wrestler had his dreadlocks cut to avoid forfeiting a match Maloney was overseeing.
The veteran referee has been at the center of controversy since the Dec. 19 incident with Andrew Johnson at Buena that went viral after a video captured him having his locs cut by a trainer on the gym floor. The incident has drawn charges of racism and harassment. Maloney is white; Johnson is biracial.
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Johnson’s attorney, Dominic Speziali, said the new information, first reported by NJ Advance Media, “raises new and troubling questions about Maloney’s suitability to serve in a position of authority over high school athletes.” He also called for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association to immediately publicly release Maloney’s personnel file, including any incidents, complaints, or disciplinary actions.
At a 2012 youth tournament, NJ Advance Media said, Maloney allegedly told a 6-year-old biracial wrestler with dreadlocks that he could not compete because his “hair doesn’t naturally look like that,” Referee Preston Hamilton, who is black, said he intervened and allowed the youngster to compete on his mat.
The boy’s parents recently submitted a witness declaration statement about the incident to the state Division on Civil Rights after learning about the agency’s investigation into the Buena case, according to the Advance Media report. Maloney only mentioned the style of the boy’s hair, not its length, the report said.
In the statement, the boy’s parents said the incident marked the first time their son’s hairstyle had been questioned, NJ Advance Media said. They argued with Maloney that their son’s hair was natural, but to no avail until another referee, “a person of color,” stepped in, the statement says.
In the boy’s second bout that day, his opponent allegedly applied an illegal headlock that appeared to choke the boy, the statement says. Maloney eventually stopped the match and then got into a back and forth with the boy’s coach, who was evicted from the gym by Maloney, according to the statement.
In December 2014, in an incident involving another mixed-race wrestler, Maloney was accused of kicking an 11-year-old from Jersey City during a tournament in Paulsboro, according to a police incident report filed by the boy’s mother.
The mother told police that her son “was sitting on the floor with several other kids when the referee, Mr. Maloney, kicked her son for no reason,” the report says. She told police “that her son was not injured, but he should not have kicked him.”
Maloney, according to the police report, said he told a group of youngsters sitting next to a wrestling mat to move back because the wrestlers had moved toward the side where they were sitting. Maloney said “he tapped one of the kids with his foot,” the report said.
At least two spectators corroborated Maloney’s account. They said that Maloney made a kicking motion but it didn’t appear that Maloney intended to hurt the kids, according to the report, which was obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News.
But Hamilton, who was involved in another racial confrontation with Maloney in 2016, also witnessed the Paulsboro incident and had a different view. Hamilton said he tried to comfort the boy’s mother, who was upset by her son’s encounter with Maloney.
“It was forceful,” Hamilton said Tuesday. “You don’t pick up your foot and kick somebody.”
Rick Eli, a co-director of the Christmas tournament sponsored by the Paulsboro youth wrestling program, said he didn’t witness the incident but heard about it from others who saw it and were upset. Eli said he didn’t want Maloney to officiate his meets again.
“He never should have kicked the kid. You just don’t do that," Eli said. "He should have just stopped the match, grabbed the P.A., and announced that we needed to clear the mats. I didn’t like the way he made calls. He’s a showman.”
Authorities said no charges were filed. Paulsboro Police Chief Gary Kille would not discuss the incident. “I have no comment on this matter,” he said Tuesday.
Lee Moore, a spokesperson for the civil rights agency, declined comment. The state is investigating the Buena incident, as is the NJSIAA. Maloney has been sidelined from officiating pending the outcome of the probes.
In 2016, Maloney allegedly used the N-word during a social gathering with referees after a wrestling match at the Shore. Hamilton then slammed Maloney to the ground. Both were suspended for a year, but appealed and their suspensions were overturned.
Hamilton declined to comment on that incident. Civil rights activists have cited that incident in demanding that state officials permanently revoke Maloney’s referee license.
Larry White, executive director of the NJSIAA, said in a statement that the association continues to work with the state civil rights agency and takes the latest information raised about Maloney “quite seriously.”
“We certainly appreciate the public’s interest, but we cannot prejudge an outcome or comment on specific details while the investigation is ongoing,” White said.
Maloney has not responded to calls seeking comment. His defenders, including Howard O’Neill, NJSIAA state tournament director, have said that Maloney, who has been officiating for more than 40 years, is a stickler for the rules.
“People are trying to make more out of this than there is,” O’Neill said shortly after the Buena incident. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Jeff Washington of Winslow, a black referee who trained under Maloney between 2009 and 2010, said Maloney made racial jokes and gave black cadet referees a hard time. After he became a referee, Washington said, he confronted Maloney.
“I told him, 'I don’t want to hear any jokes about brothers or black guys," Washington said. “That was it. He stopped, at least around me.”
At the December match at Buena, Maloney told Johnson his hair was too long. Johnson, 16, a junior, had the option to forfeit if he did not cut it, or to cover his hair with a cap that attaches to his helmet as required by the rules.
Johnson allowed an athletic trainer to cut several inches from his brown locs. Speziali has said that Johnson’s hair length didn’t violate the rules and a covering was not needed.
The incident has caused an uproar in the wrestling community and prompted officials to clarify the hair covering rule, which caused confusion among wrestlers and coaches. Johnson returned to competition earlier this month without incident.
Staff writer Phil Anastasia contributed to this article.