The parents of a 16-year-old wrestler who was told to cut off his dreads before a match said they are "comforted" by their son's strength.
Andrew Johnson, a wrestler at Buena Regional High School in New Jersey, was planning to wear a cover over his dreadlocks but referee Alan Maloney reportedly said he would have to cut his hair to compete or risk losing last Friday's match.
Johnson chose to cut it but appeared upset in a widely circulated video of the moment. The teen went on to win the match.
Charles and Rosa Johnson, Andrew's parents, praised their son in a statement via their attorney, Dominic A. Speziali.
“Wrestling has taught Andrew to be resilient in the face of adversity," they said. "As we move forward, we are comforted by both the strength of Andrew’s character and the support he’s received from the community.
"We will do all that we can to make sure that no student-athlete is forced to endure what Andrew experienced,” they added.
Speziali said Maloney's behavior was unacceptable and "appears more egregious [than what was seen in the video] as additional information comes to light," according to CNN.
The Johnsons' lawyer alleges Maloney saw no issues with Andrew's dreads during an initial evaluation before later telling Andrew both his hair and the covering he was wearing did not meet the league's standards.
When Andrew offered to push back his hair, Maloney allegedly turned him down because it "wasn't in its natural state."
"The blame here rests primarily with the referee," Speziali said, "and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression."
Speziali added: "The referee is behind them directing her to keep cutting until he was satisfied with the length."
Wrestlers are allowed to have dreads, so long as they wear a covering that is "snug" to the person in question's body, according to National Federation of State High School Associations. Johnson was wearing a cover, but it's not clear how snugly fit it was. He had previously wrestled with dreads without issue.
Maloney is not being assigned any matches while the incident is investigated, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. He has not responded to requests for comment.