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Forfeiting identity: A black wrestler’s cut dreadlocks raise questions about rules and race

Listen 14:01
In this image taken from a Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 video provided by SNJTODAY.COM, Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson is declared the winner after his match in in Buena, N.J. Before the match a referee told Johnson he would forfeit his bout if he didn't have his dreadlocks cut off. Johnson had his hair cut minutes before the match and a SNJ Today reporter tweeted video of the incident. The state's Interscholastic Athletic Association says they are recommending the referee not be assigned to any event until the matter has been reviewed more thoroughly. (Michael Frankel/SNJTODAY.COM viavAP)

In this image taken from a Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 video provided by SNJTODAY.COM, Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson is declared the winner after his match in in Buena, N.J. Before the match a referee told Johnson he would forfeit his bout if he didn't have his dreadlocks cut off. Johnson had his hair cut minutes before the match and a SNJ Today reporter tweeted video of the incident. The state's Interscholastic Athletic Association says they are recommending the referee not be assigned to any event until the matter has been reviewed more thoroughly. (Michael Frankel/SNJTODAY.COM viavAP)

A white referee recently forced a black South Jersey high school wrestler to choose between cutting his dreadlocks or forfeiting a match 90 seconds before it started. The incident, which was captured on video, quickly sparked a public outcry and raised numerous questions: Why was a teenager forced to make this decision so quickly? Was the referee just following the rules? What message does a video of a young black man having his dreadlocks cut by a white adult convey? On this episode of The Why, WHYY reporter Darryl C. Murphy breaks down what we know and don’t know about this controversy.

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