Andrew Johnson (277332)

Alan Mahoney, the referee who made a Black wrestler cut his dreadlocks, says he may sue for defamation. The New Jersey referee is reportedly planning to file a lawsuit alleging character defamation and emotional distress related to the incident. Maloney sent a tort claim notice earlier this month to a dozen potential defendants, including the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and Buena School District officials, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A tort claim notice is not a lawsuit; instead, it informs a public entity that a person believes they have a reason to file a lawsuit against it. Maloney alleged in his March 6 notice that he has suffered $100,000 in damages after making Andrew Johnson, a wrestler at Buena Regional High School, choose between cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting his match on Dec. 19, 2018. Buena officials said soon after the incident that Maloney would no longer work with the school district. The NJSIAA also barred him from officiating any matches, pending results from its own investigation and a probe by the state Division of Civil Rights.

A video of the dreadlock-cutting went viral online soon after it happened, with Johnson visibly upset when an athletic trainer used scissors to cut his hair off. The footage showed Johnson winning the match but still distressed, sparking conversations about the trauma Black people experience over the racist policing of their hair. Maloney, who is White, faced condemnation on social media and from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), film director Ava DuVernay and Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs, according to the Huffington Post.

The incident was referred to the state attorney general’s office to investigate whether Maloney had acted appropriately. Maloney’s claim notice, obtained by the Inquirer, defends his actions during that match, which included telling Johnson he was not allowed to wrestle without a hair covering. “Mr. Maloney properly performed his duties as the referee and fairly applied the rules governing a wrestling match,” the notice stated, according to the newspaper. Maloney has been accused of racism before.

In 2016, the referee made headlines after allegedly using a racial slur against a Black referee. He later said he didn’t remember saying the word. Johnson’s attorney, Dominic Speziali told the New York Daily News that “the extent referee Alan Maloney plans to ever file a claim as a victim in this incident is outright absurd.” Johnson, currently a high school junior, resumed competition in wrestling matches in January. He finished the season with 19 wins.