BUENA, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – The parents of a varsity wrestler who was forced to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match at a tournament are speaking out.
This comes as their attorney says the referee who ordered Buena Regional High School student Andrew Johnson to cut his hair was late and missed the weigh-in, where any issues with his appearance should have been surfaced.
Video taken Wednesday shows Andrew getting the impromptu haircut to avoid forfeiting the match. That followed an ultimatum by the referee.
Johnson went on to win his match.
The rules prohibit hair of a certain length, but some people believe the request was racially motivated.
Andrew’s parents Charles and Rosa Johnson issued a statement through their attorney Monday. They said they were “deeply moved by the thunderous outpouring of unsolicited support.”
“Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity. As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community,” they said. “We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced.”
“The scholastic wrestling rules clearly state that referees are to inspect wrestlers appearance and determine any rules violations prior to the start of the meet, typically during weigh-ins. The referee here was late to the meet and missed weigh-ins,” said Johnson family attorney Dominic Speziali. “When he did evaluate Andrew, he failed to raise any issues with the length of his hair or the need to wear a headcovering.”
“The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression,” Speziali said.
“His hair has always been like that so for them to now bring it up is out of line,” said Buena Regional High School student Maylin Bauza.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is investigating as well as the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
The referee involved will not be assigned to another match until the investigation is complete.
Gov. Phil Murphy said on Twitter he was deeply disturbed by the incident.
Four time world wrestling champ Jordan Borroughs spoke out about it.
“It was pretty courageous to see him do what he did,” Borroughs said. “He understands that the dynamics of this case weren’t all completely racially motivated… but it opened up a conversation for something way bigger than himself.”