Here’s a Little More About That Referee Who Forced a Black Wrestler to Cut His Dreads

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

A few days ago, this video went viral:

I didn’t post about this at the time because it seemed like there had to be more to the story. But there was nothing in the news reports. Today, though, I figured a few days had gone by and maybe the local press had dug into things a little more deeply. After a bit of sleuthing, I think I finally know what happened. I should warn you beforehand that this doesn’t answer the question of whether the referee in this video was racist or not. But it does explain how this seemingly bizarre incident unraveled:

  • Wrestling rules require that hair be cut to “normal” collar length in back and above the earlobes on the sides.
  • Andrew Johnson, the teenage wrestler in the video, had hair that was “a little too long,” according to his father, so he had to wear a cap.
  • The match referee, Alan Maloney, “regarded as one of the state’s top wrestling referees,” was late to the meet and didn’t see Johnson’s cap during weigh-in. When he saw it before Johnson’s match began, he ruled that it was illegal.
  • Why? Because the rules have changed. “Johnson would’ve been in compliance in the past, but the rule changed within the past couple of seasons to require the cap to be attached to the headgear, according to Howie O’Neil, who’s officiated for 44 years.”
  • Johnson’s coach argued intensely with Maloney for several minutes, but Maloney wouldn’t budge. Finally, Johnson decided on his own to have his dreadlocks cut.
  • According to the New Jersey Courier-Post, Maloney was “acting in accordance with the rules, according to multiple South Jersey referees.” Ron Roberts, a wrestling referee of more than 20 years who also happens to be a Buena graduate, said “The interpretation of the rule was applied correctly. The kid had to have legal head cover by rule or he’s got to cut his hair.”
  • Buena had competed in a tournament the week before, presumably staffed by different referees, but this was their first dual meet of the year.

So this whole thing boils down to an opinion: should Maloney have simply warned Johnson and told him to get a regulation cap before his next meet? Or was he correct to enforce the rules as they stood?

I don’t know. Either way, though, what really sent this incident into the social media stratosphere was the discovery that Alan Maloney, the referee, had once called a fellow ref the n-word after having one too many drinks at an after-meet party:

Over a disagreement about homemade wine, said Preston Hamilton, who is African American, fellow referee Alan Maloney poked his finger in his chest and hurled the epithet….Hamilton told the Courier-Post he responded by slamming Maloney, who is white, to the ground.

….Maloney says he called Hamilton and apologized to him two days later, on Easter Sunday. “I left it alone,” Hamilton recalled. “I’ve known Al since I was 4 years old. I was just trying to leave it alone.”

….Four days after Preston Hamilton’s email to Southern Chapter President Sean Felkins about what he said transpired in the condo, Maloney emailed his fellow official.

“Preston, It was good speaking to you the other day (3/27/16) in regards to the statement you said i made. As i stated to you then i do not remember that i said what i was told, but i’m happy you accepted my apologies and i am glad we can move forward, very sorry that this happen. If you need to discuss anything further call me. Look forward to seeing you around and refing with you in the near future. best wishes, alan”

….On May 4, Hamilton got notification that an NJWOA ethics committee hearing for both parties would be held May 22….According to Felkins, Maloney volunteered to participate in an alcohol awareness program and sensitivity training. Both corrective actions were accepted, as long as he paid for and finished them. On top of that, Maloney received a one-year suspension from officiating, Felkins said.

So far, that’s all I can find out. Maloney and Hamilton were apparently longtime acquaintances (friends?); Maloney was tipsy when he used the n-word; he agreed to participate in sensitivity training; and he was suspended for a year. (Hamilton was suspended too, for slamming Maloney to the floor.)

As for the cap, it’s all a matter of how strictly Maloney should have enforced the rules. I have no idea about that, but perhaps I have some readers with wrestling experience who might shed some light on this?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend