Activists on Tuesday again demanded that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association permanently revoke the referee license of Alan Maloney, who sparked controversy last month when he gave wrestler Andrew Johnson 90 seconds to decide whether to have his dreadlocks cut or forfeit a match.
A video of the Buena Regional High School wrestler having his hair cut in a crowded gym prompted allegations of racism and harassment.
In 2016, Maloney was disciplined for using a racial slur against a black official during a social gathering with referees after a meet. He later apologized and was ordered to undergo sensitivity training.
On Tuesday, Walter Hudson of the National Awareness Alliance organized a rally and news conference outside the athletic association’s headquarters in Robbinsville to demand the license revocation.
The group also requested reviews by the athletic association and the state’s Division on Civil Rights of the “constant” harassment they say Johnson has suffered since the Dec. 19 incident, and for legislative oversight of the association.
“Implicit racism has no place in scholastic athletics," Hudson said. "This is the reason we’re calling for the permanent revocation of Alan Maloney’s officiating license. In addition, we demand that the NJSIAA thoroughly investigate the constant harassment of Andrew Johnson’s hair length by other officials.”
Tuesday’s news conference was scheduled on the 90th anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to commemorate and honor the civil rights leader. Hudson was joined by Salaam Ismial, director of the National United Youth Council, based in Elizabeth, Union County. Several others stood nearby with signs that read, “Stop NJSIAA Institutional Racism,” or “Stop Bigotry.”
Ismial said the incident with Johnson is reflective of a larger problem in which students of color face more scrutiny by officials enforcing rules unfairly. White students, he said, do not face the same scrutiny — especially involving the length of their hair.
Hudson said that it was unclear how the century-old institution handles complaints and that there is a lack of minority representation on its governing body from urban cities.
The NJSIAA, Ismail said, has shown poor oversight, which is why they are asking for the state civil rights division to act. The organization’s board committee has four black members out of 50, and only two black staff members out of 16, he said.
Several investigations have been launched by the state civil rights agency and others, including the NJSIAA. Maloney has been sidelined from officiating pending the outcome of the probes.
In a statement Tuesday, Larry White, NJSIAA executive director, said the association is providing updates to the state civil rights agency and will send information as new details become available.
“As we previously noted and to help avoid disruption of scholastic athletic events — the referee in question will not be assigned to matches until this matter has been thoroughly reviewed,” White said.
Last week at Buena Regional, a meet was abruptly canceled after the referee assigned to that match said Johnson would not be allowed to compete without a covering for his hair, his lawyer said Thursday. Johnson competed on Friday without incident after the rules were clarified.
Johnson’s attorney, Dominic Speziali, sent a three-page letter to the state’s civil rights division detailing the backlash since the controversy erupted and asked the agency to investigate what he described as an “unrelenting fixation” on Johnson’s hair.
Since the haircut video went viral through social media, there has been upheaval in the wrestling community, causing state athletic officials to enforce the rule following allegations that Johnson was targeted because he is biracial. Some referees have defended Maloney, saying he was following the rules.
At that December match, Maloney told Johnson, 16, a junior, that his hair was too long. Johnson had the option to forfeit if he did not cut it, or cover his hair with a cap that attaches to his helmet as required by the rules.
Speziali has said that Johnson’s hair length didn’t violate the rules and a covering was not needed.