BUENA — A New Jersey referee at the center of a national controversy involving a Black high school wrestler who lopped his dreadlocks to avoid forfeiting a match has lost in court again.

Referee Alan Maloney was thrust into the spotlight after he told Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson that his hair cover was not compliant. To not forfeit the Dec. 19, 2018 match, Johnson had his dreads chopped off in full view of the public.

A reporter covering the match posted video of the haircut on social media. The video spread rapidly, creating what Maloney called a "media blitz" that led to the incident being "manipulated and misconstrued as a national race issue."

Maloney, who is white, was suspended for two years by the NJ State Interscholastic Athletic Association. The suspension cost him $100,000 in potential income, according to the lawsuit. He accused the school district, its athletic director, and NJSIAA officials of bowing to pressure without giving him due process.

Within days of the match, the state Division on Civil Rights opened an investigation into the incident. Public figures and the state chapter of the ACLU also criticized the referee's decision.

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Gov. Murphy said on social media that he was "deeply disturbed" by the matter. Former Assemblyman John Armato, a Democrat who represented Buena, said it was "without a doubt a clear act of racial discrimination."

In a Twitter thread, U.S. Olympian and famed New Jersey wrestler Jordan Burroughs called it "sickening."

"My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence," Burroughs said. "As for the referee Alan Maloney, he needs to be held accountable. You've been refereeing for far too long to not know better."

Buena Regional High School fact sheet. (Google Maps)
(Google Maps)

In its decision, the appellate court agreed that Maloney had not told Johnson to cut his dreads. However, it concluded that the referee could have waived the rule regarding head covers.

"Maloney, as the referee, had the ultimate authority to prevent A.J. from competing if he determined A.J.'s headgear was non-compliant. And, correctly or incorrectly, he chose to exercise that power," the appellate court said.

The decision upholds a lower court ruling which found that Maloney was in the best position to insure the matter was handled privately instead of out in the open. Instead, the referee chose to only give Johnson 90 seconds to make a decision and allowed the wrestler to cut his hair in public view.

We have reached out to Maloney's attorneys for comment.

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