A video has surfaced on Twitter showing someone cutting a high school wrestler’s locs at a match, sparking outrage and conversations about the trauma black people experience over the racist policing of their hair.
Mike Frankel, a sports director at SNJ Today, tweeted on Thursday that a referee told the wrestler at Buena Regional High School in Buena, New Jersey, that he had to cut his locs or his team would forfeit the match.
“It was either an impromptu haircut, or a forfeit,” Frankel wrote.
The New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association, or NJWOA, did not return HuffPost’s request for comment.
Director Ava DuVernay has responded to the video on Twitter, sharing that she called New Jersey Commissioner of Education Dr. Lamont Repollet and “various administrators” to discuss the incident.
“I’ve left a dozen messages w/ various administrators this morning,” she wrote. “I hope you’ll be the one to answer.”
Local news publications have since identified veteran wrestling referee Alan Maloney as the referee working the meet on Wednesday.
Maloney, who is white, was previously in the news for allegedly calling a black referee, Preston Hamilton, a racial epithet.
Maloney told the Post in 2016 he didn’t remember using the word but also said he apologized for the exchange.
“You know, people do make mistakes and I apologized,” he said. “I really don’t think this should go any further than it’s gone anyhow. … The remark was not made to him.”
“After he told me what I said … I didn’t remember it,” he continued. “I was told it. I believed it and said, ‘Yo, that ain’t me.’ That’s when I called him right away and that’s when he told me we were good.”
SNJ Today’s video captured the visibly emotional student standing still as someone cut his hair while his teammates and adults watched. It is unclear from the video why the student had to cut his hair. HuffPost is not publishing the video to avoid identifying the teen.
The National Federation of State High School Associations did not reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.
David C. Cappuccio Jr., superintendent at Buena Regional School District, released a statement about the incident on Friday.
The superintendent stated that an “assigned referee” at the match indicated that the wrestler’s hair length and headgear were not in compliance with regulations.
“The student-athlete made the decision to have his hair cut, at that moment, in order to avoid a forfeiture of the match,” the statement read. “No school/district staff member influenced the student into making this decision.”
Cappuccio noted that the school’s principal, athletic director and wrestling coach contacted the student’s parents the following day to discuss the incident. Wrestling officials and referees are part of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and are not employed by the Buena Regional School District, the statement read.
The video made the rounds on Friday, sparking condemnation from people concerned about the targeting of black people for their natural hair and hairstyles.
This year a Florida private school made headlines when a video showed a 6-year-old black boy being turned away because of his locs.
The Buena Regional School District says the NJSIAA has launched an investigation into the incident.
“Although the investigation in the matter is ongoing, the assigned referee will no longer be permitted to officiate any contests that include any Buena Regional School District student-athletes,” the statement read.
UPDATE — Dec. 23: Maloney has been suspended, state athletic officials announced Saturday.
Larry White, the executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the incident would be investigated by the state civil rights division.
Maloney will not be assigned to future high school wrestling events in New Jersey until the investigation has been completed, White said.
Hayley Miller contributed reporting.