Twin Cities coach says cutting wrestler's hair was wrong

"I would have forfeited and taken care of this at another time"

Two Haute Mamas
December 23, 2018 - 2:53 am
Wrestling mat

Sergejs Kuznecovs | Dreamstime.com

A New Jersey referee won’t be assigned to work any new matches and a civil rights inquiry has been launched after he told a student athlete to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a match.

Andrew Johnson, an African American high school wrestler, had a cover for his hair; however, Alan Maloney, a white referee, said that wasn’t good enough.

Johnson, wanting to compete, begrudgingly allowed an official to cut his hair.

The incident was captured on cell phone video and uploaded to Twitter.

The viral post shows an assistant coach for the Buena Regional High School wresting team aggressively using scissors to chop off Johnson’s dreadlocks while he cries and is visibly upset.

Within a matter of days, the online post was shared on social media millions of times and got the attention of national media outlets.

The response, mostly outrage, was immediate and swift. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says he was deeply disturbed by the story.

Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs, who won a gold medal in 2012, called the incident “…an abuse of power, racist and absolutely shameful”.

This story was very personal for Lindy Vincent, co-host of the Two Haute Mamas Podcast on WCCO Radio online.

Vincent has been wearing her hair in dreadlocks for more than a decade.

She fought back tears trying to describe how the video made her feel, “For that official to just take some scissors to his head like she was chopping down a bush outside the front door of her home broke my heart.  There was no feeling in it for her. She had no compassion for this child.  She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world.

“This whole incident says a lot about the criminalization of brown skin and black culture.  This official didn’t just cut off his hair, she chopped off his humanity as well.”

Jeff Wichern who owns JJ Trained Wrestling School in Eden Prairie says cutting a wrestler’s hair prior to a match isn’t uncommon.

In fact it happened to him as a teenager, “When I was in high school, I had to have my hair cut on the side of the mat. A referee is supposed to handle this hair situation at weigh-in, but the referees are not always at the weigh-in. At least mine wasn’t on that fateful day. I went out on a mat, the referee saw my hair for the first time and said it was too long. My coach had to cut my hair in order for me to compete.”

Wichern opened his wrestling school in 2016 with the promise to treat his students like family members. He said he would have handled things differently if he was Johnson's coach, “I would have forfeited the match and taken care of this at another time. You know, get some other authorities involved to make it a better situation.  I think the situation was handled wrong just looking at the video. I wouldn’t want something like that to happen to one of my wrestlers. It’s a tough situation not knowing all the details.”

One thing he does know is that the hair rules in wrestling are outdated, “I hope it opens everyone’s mind that maybe we need to make some different rules as the sport evolves. The rules were put in place so long ago they don’t apply anymore. There are more females wrestling today. There are more people of color wrestling as well. We have to address these things.”

Ian Cody’s nephew Malachi is an 8th grade student at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights and a member of the school’s wrestling team.

Cody said he was shocked that no adults came to Johnson’s defense, “Where was the coach or the assistant coach or a team parent who were supposed to be there to protect this young man? Why didn’t anyone say anything? That’s disturbing that nobody said anything or spoke up for him. That’s an eye opener and a red flag for me.”

He was blown away by Johnson’s dedication in spite of everything he had gone through. He made sure to point that out to his nephew, “I tried to point out the good which was this young man’s dedication. He got his hair cut but he was focused and still won his match. That was definitely big of him. This whole situation is so negative that initially I didn't want to point it out to my nephew, so I tried to look for the good points.”

Cody and Malachi watched the video together because he wanted to teach his nephew one important life-lesson: self-advocacy, “What I wanted him to learn from seeing the clip is to stand up for himself and know that he has rights as a student athlete. If he feels like he's in a compromising position, and I’m not there, say something. That’s his right to say something. Say something to the coaches or another adult. Stand up for yourself. That’s what I hope this teaches him.”

To listen to the entire emotionally charged show, click on the link below…