Please watch the video before reading my article. It is less than two minutes:
Here is a summary of what happened. An African American high school wrestler named Andrew Johnson was getting ready to wrestle. Andrew had dreadlocks. For safety reasons, wrestlers with long hair are typically told to wear a covering over their hair. Andrew typically did this, and he was doing this at this time as well. The white referee (Yes, I believe that it is important in this instance to mention that he is white), Alan Maloney, was not satisfied with this. He told Andrew that if he didn’t cut his hair immediately, he would forfeit his match. Andrew submitted himself to this humiliating action. One other fact is important to this story. In 2016 the referee Alan Maloney had used a racial slur on an African American referee. He was ordered to take a sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. Although he had been initially given a one year suspension, that suspension was overturned.
Referee Alan Maloney is a racist and a bully. When an African American young man wears dreadlocks, this is not random. This is a source of pride for him. He is embracing his culture. This is part of his identity. When a racist referee orders him to cut his hair, he is directly attacking his culture, his pride, and his identity. He is deliberately trying to humiliate him. Here is a pretty fair analogy. If you were the parent of a teenaged daughter with beautiful long hair, and she was forced to allow someone cut her hair (or lose a competition that was extremely important to her and to her team), how would you feel? I am not always a fan of the ACLU, but I think the New Jersey chapter got it exactly right when they tweeted:
“This is not about hair. This is about race.”
“How many different ways will people try to exclude black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry? We’re so sorry this happened to you, Andrew. This was discrimination, and it’s not okay.”
I would like to offer a few closing opinions on this:
1. I so admire Andrew Johnson for allowing his hair to be chopped. He put his teammates and his coaches above himself at extreme personal sacrifice. One commentator stated that he would have made more of an impact had he walked out. I disagree with this (although I understand the sentiment). By allowing someone to chop off his hair, Andrew exposed the racist referee in a way that nothing else could have. MILLIONS of people have seen this video.
2. I realize that Andrew’s coach was arguing with the ref about this. But he should have done more. He should have walked out with his entire team. Andrew Johnson’s dignity had a much higher value than winning a tournament. However, it is not easy to make a perfect call when you have just a split second to decide what the best course of action is. So I am not too hard on him.
3. Andrew’s family puts the entire blame on the referee, and they put none of the blame on any of the other wrestlers or the coaches. I greatly admire their restraint on this.
4. Alan Maloney the referee should NEVER be allowed to coach or referee ANY activity with ANY young people EVER! Still oblivious to the depth of what he has done, Maloney told one reporter that he planned on sending Andrew “a few cool things for Christmas.” YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!
There are people who will say, “Racism used to be a problem in this country, but it really isn’t a problem these days. We are past that.” They need to watch that video.