An Olympic champion wrestler has reached out to a New Jersey high school wrestler who had hisright before his match after a referee told him to lose the hairstyle or forfeit his bout. Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, posted and spoke on social media early Saturday about the incident.
"Now, let me tell you how sickening this is. I've been wrestling for 25 years, at every level, and I have never once seen a person required to cut their hair during a match. This is nonsense," he said in a series of tweets.
High school wrestler Andrew Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair, but referee Alan Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn't do. Johnson went on to win Wednesday's match but appeared visibly distraught. Burroughs drew attention to his demeanor, saying, "He was hurting, and that wasn't fair."
Burroughs called Johnson "courageous" for his performance in the match despite "all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment." He said he understood his reasons for agreeing to the haircut, although it might have been "more powerful" to walk away.
Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said Saturday the organization had reached out to leagues and conferences that assign referees and "they've all agreed" not to assign Maloney to any event until the matter has been reviewed.
The state attorney general's office has confirmed an investigation by the Division on Civil Rights. The school superintendent said in a letter to the community that they support and stand by all student athletes.
Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper. Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments. After the incident was reported, he agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. A one-year suspension was overturned.
A woman answering the phone at a listed number for Maloney said the ordeal is being blown out of proportion and the referee was simply following rules.
Burroughs said he hoped to be in touch with Johnson soon and promised to send him "a few cool things for Christmas."