Referee who told N.J. wrestler to cut dreads alleges defamation

In this image taken from a Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 video provided by SNJTODAY.COM, Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson gets his hair cut courtside minutes before his match in Buena, N.J. (Michael Frankel/SNJTODAY.COM via AP)

In this image taken from a Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 video provided by SNJTODAY.COM, Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson gets his hair cut courtside minutes before his match in Buena, N.J. (Michael Frankel/SNJTODAY.COM via AP)

A referee who was heavily criticized for telling a New Jersey high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit his match has taken a step toward filing a defamation lawsuit.

The tort claim notice sent by referee Alan Maloney to a dozen possible defendants alleges $100,000 damages, defamation of character and emotional distress.

Buena Regional student Andrew Johnson had his dreadlocks cut minutes before the Dec. 19 match. Johnson, who is black, had been wearing a hair covering, but Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do.

A widely circulated video showed the wrestler’s hair being haphazardly cut on the sidelines.

Maloney has been barred from officiating pending investigations by state civil rights and interscholastic athletic association officials.

The legal claim preserves Maloney’s right to a possible lawsuit.

Maloney hasn’t responded to requests for comment. The school superintendent declined to comment.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.