An incident at a New Jersey high school wrestling tournament in which a black wrestler was forced by a white referee to cut off his dreadlocks has once again sparked a social media backlash and questions about the treatment of young people of color.
A video originally tweeted by a SNJ Today reporter shows Buena Regional High School junior Andrew Johnson standing dejected in the school's gym after being forced to choose between getting his hair cut or forfeiting.
In the video, fans and coaches watch an official cut off Johnson's dreadlocks with a pair of scissors before he is allowed to compete.
The crowd cheers as Johnson wins the match - which helped his school to a tournament victory - but despite having his hand raised after the victory the junior stands with his shoulders slumped and head down as he walks off the mat to be comforted by his team.
The American Civil Liberties Union's New Jersey chapter responded by tweeting that, "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?"
On Friday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said it was conducting an investigation and had contacted Buena Regional High School officials and the referee involved in the incident.
Michael Cherenson, spokesman for the association, said the organization had reached out to groups that assign referees "and they've all agreed" not to assign Alan Maloney to any event until further notice.
The association also said it was forwarding preliminary information to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and that, "given the degree of attention being focused on this matter," it would recommend that the referee not be assigned to any event until the incident "has been reviewed more thoroughly."
Jordan Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, posted and spoke on social media early Saturday about the incident, saying he had never seen anything like it in a quarter-century of wrestling.
"This is nonsense," a message on Burroughs' Twitter account said. "My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence." In a video posted on Instagram, he criticized parents and coaching staff at the match for not intervening, calling it "absolutely shameful."
Burroughs called Johnson "courageous" for his performance in the match despite "all of the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment." The fellow southern New Jersey wrestler said Maloney had been the referee for some of his high school matches growing up.
Gov. Phil Murphy weighed in on the issue on Twitter, saying he was "deeply disturbed" by the story.
"No student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity and playing sports," he said.
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 Friday at a listed number for Maloney said the ordeal is being blown out of proportion and the referee was simply following rules.
The Buena Regional High School athletic department did not return a phone call seeking comment.