A New Jersey wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match in December returned to the mat on Saturday for the first time since the controversial incident.
Andrew Johnson, a junior at Buena Regional High School, competed in the eight-team tournament on Saturday with his hair in short, thin dreadlocks, NJ.com reported. The wrestler lost his opening match.
It’s unclear if Johnson had to make adjustments to his hair prior to the tournament to adhere to the rules, which according to NJSIAA regular season, “Wrestlers opting to wear a legal hair cover must wear it to the weigh-in and be checked for grooming. The legal hair cover must be removed prior to the wrestler stepping on the scale to be weighed.”
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Johnson’s teammate Jaden Roberts told NJ.com he was happy to see Johnson back in the lineup.
“Andrew’s always been part of the team, no matter what the situation is, and we’re supportive of him,” Roberts said. “I’m not sure how he’s feeling. He just does what he needs to do.”
Johnson was about to compete in a match on Dec. 19 when referee Alan Maloney said the wrestler had to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the game despite wearing a cover for his hair. Video obtained by SNJ Today showed an athletic trainer snipping off Johnson’s locks.
Johnson went on to win his match against a rival from Oakcrest High School but appeared visibly upset.
NEW JERSEY HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING TEAM WON’T COMPETE IN EVENTS WITH REF WHO TOLD ATHLETE TO CUT DREADLOCKS
The video went viral and sparked backlash, with many people suggesting the decision was racially biased. Many social media users called the incident “racist,” ‘‘cruel” and “humiliating.”
Maloney previously came under scrutiny in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, the Courier-Post reported. The referee said at the time he did not remember using any racial epithets at that event but accepted witness accounts that he did.
After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. His one-year suspension was overturned.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association [NJSIAA] previously announced the incident was under investigation.
Fox News’ Kathleen Joyce contributed to this report.