As a former high school and youth coach in multiple sports I have heard or seen some outrageous things that referees have done to athletes. As the 2018 winter sports season started up in December, a wrestler at Buena High School, NJ was asked to do something that outraged many people and caused his school to even cancel matches for the whole team! It started as a normal match on December 19th until the referee approached a wrestler with dreadlocks and told him that he must cut them or be disqualified from the match. The athlete shamefully had the athletic trainer cut his locks off with a pair of scissors so he could participate. As a former athlete myself I can understand his passion and competitive drive for wanting to compete, however the certain referee might have crossed the line in this instance.
After the incident it is obvious people were very upset and people left the situation very confused. First off, the referee who was a white man had past allegations of racist actions towards other people within the wrestling community from other athletes to fellow referees. This specific referee was the only one to ever single out this young man for his dreadlocks during his high school wrestling career, which questions his judgement and the rules he is supposed to uphold. This was not a good start to the situation in which he gave a high school kid an ultimatum to compete. Next, the head official and executive council member for New Jersey wrestling sent out pictures and descriptions of hair styles that would require a covering or would be okay to compete with without any alterations. However, these guidelines did not match up with the National High School Federation’s point of view. The NFHS is the governing body of all high school sports and their spokesperson disagreed with the memo that was sent out by the head official. The key part of the explanation that was provided from the spokesperson was that, “it is not about the style, but the length. If a wrestler’s hair in its ‘natural state’ extends below the earlobe on the sides or touches the top of a normal shirt, it’s required to be secured in a legal hair cover, according to the NFHS. In addition, if the hair is longer than allowed, it must be contained in a legal hair cover that is attached to the ear guards.” (NJ Advanced Media, 2019) Nowhere in that rule does it say anything about cutting of hair and dreadlocks in particular. The wrestler’s hair was not down past his ears so it shouldn’t have been covered in the first place. It is clear there was racial profiling and racism going on here.
The investigation of the incident is being wrapped up, but the interesting thing was that this young man and his family did not press any charges. After looking at the evidence that was presented in the press it is clear they could bring a lawsuit against this particular referee and the state itself. What the referee made him do that day for his match was preposterous and should have never happened. New Jersey should be tightening up their rules and get them in accordance with the NFHS. In my opinion this blows my mind that this athlete was discriminated against because of his skin color and hair type, by not only the referee, but the head official as well who said it should have been covered. These men are both wrong and should be ashamed of themselves for bringing this unneeded attention on a teenager. They should also be lucky that the family did not press charges because this would not go well for them.