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Student Athlete Forced to Decide Between His Cultural Identity and His Teammates

Andrew Johnson, a black wrestler at Buena Regional High School, was recently seen on a viral video getting his dreadlocks cut off completely at one of his wrestling matches. Why you might ask?

To avoid forfeiting the match, thanks to a call made by Alan Maloney who was the referee at the time. Maloney, who has come under scrutiny for racial slurs against another black referee in 2016, demanded during the match that the student cut his hair or go home.

Johnson, who didn’t want to let his team down, decided to follow orders and allow the athletic trainer to do just that. Needless to say, this caused major outrage from the community.

What’s the big deal? It’s only hair, right?

Wrong! Johnson later shared that he dedicated years to growing his dreadlocks because they represented his pride in his culture. When he was forced to make the decision to cut his hair, he stated that he had no choice because he didn’t want to let his teammates down.

This show of team dedication and commitment didn’t go unnoticed. Professional wrestler Jordan Burroughs took to Twitter stating that Johnson’s decision showed his ability to “step up and be selfless” even though he completely hated the fact that Johnson had to make such a decision.

“This is complete nonsense,” Burroughs tweeted. “My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence,” he continued. Governor Phil Murphy also found this event to be unfortunate when he tweeted that he was “deeply disturbed that Andrew Johnson was needlessly forced to choose between his identity and playing sports.”

Maloney was already forced in 2016 to take sensitivity training and to attend an alcohol awareness program. With such a history one would think that he would be more closely watched when residing over tournaments. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association announced that Maloney would not be allowed to serve as the referee for other events until the matter was fully investigated. Additionally, the Division on Civil Rights and the school superintendent are all investigating the matter, as well. It makes one wonder exactly what they are investigating if the video shows the evidence?

What are they trying to see that goes outside of what is clearly being displayed? It truly makes one wonder if this is just another way to say it’s being investigated until the smoke clears. Based on Maloney’s past, he should have never been cleared to serve as a referee in the first place.

It’s most unfortunate that outside bias, prejudice, fear, and ignorance come into the schools by adults who just can’t get past their small-minded way of thinking. Johnson was a victim in this incident because he was placed in a situation where he had to make a choice on what he believed in for himself and what he believed in as a team player.

Most would criticize this young man for making the choice to cut his hair…choosing to override his pride in his culture, and instead, showing his pride in a game. This is one of those things that a person would have to find themselves in prior to judging whether or not Johnson made a good decision at that time.

By the way, Johnson ended up winning the game. However, it’s too bad he had to lose something else to do so.

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About Audra L.

Audra L. is an author, columnist and community activist who's dedicated to finding truth through research and effective communication. She received her degree in Public Policy and teaches Community Development, Public Speaking and Communications Law to youth throughout the nation. She is the recipient of over 23 awards and honors for her commitment to community outreach initiatives.


  1. “Most would criticize this young man for making the choice to cut his hair” Really? You sure about that? Because I’ve seen a lot of articles about it and not a single one of them, and not a single commenter, has been criticizing the kid for cutting his hair – though there are a few of “why did he have dreads to begin with” and “rules are rules”.

  2. The coach is partly to blame. He should have given the wrestler a specially designed headgear for wrestlers with long hair. This rule has been in existence for years. By the way, it is a match, not a game.

  3. I think this is no big thingy. Young men and women everywhere are forced to follow a dress code for simply going to school. Men are told to have their hair cut a certain length before they are allowed into the campus. At least in my country where discipline still counts for something. My dad told me that in wrestling, men should have short-cropped hair to prevent their opponent from using it to grab onto. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it makes sense. If the boy’s only self-identity is through his hair, then when he gets old and becomes bold, does that mean he loses his identity? Pretty superficial to me.

  4. Dreadlocks are not an African cultrual heritage
    Show me where in history the primitive africans in africa had dreadlocks
    It is a modern rasta craze and as far as I am concerned a dirty way of wearing your hair

  5. That is just a style, it does not really represent and culture.
    I am black, I know!

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