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State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.

State issues new guidance on hairstyle discrimination

Black wrestler forced to cut dreadlocks or be disqualified last December

By Nikita Biryukov, September 18 2019 4:03 pm

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The state Division of Civil Rights is issuing new guidance on hairstyles after a South Jersey wrestler was forced to cut off his dreadlocks or be disqualified last year.

“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play. The Division on Civil Rights’ action today makes it less likely that any student athlete will have to endure discrimination that not only undermines fair competition but also violates our state laws.”

The state’s investigation was conducted in concert with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association, a private organization that administers many of the state’s scholastic leagues.

The new guidance offers explicit protection to hairstyles that are closely associated to being Black or related to Black ancestry.

Some wrestling officials in the state had construed the previous rule governing hair length as applying to traditionally Black haircuts regardless of length.

As part of their agreement, the NJSIAA will provide in-person training to its rules interpreters and all of the state’s wrestling officials to make clear the new rule is only to be applied to hair length and not to hair style.

Alan Maloney, the referee who told the student to cut his hair or be disqualified, was issued a two-year suspension.

“The problem is bigger than the referee. While I am pleased he is suspended, as he should be because his judgment was clearly flawed, the larger problem is discrimination and that’s what legislators must look to correct through laws prohibiting this type of bias,” Assemblywoman Angela McKnight said. “Our work to end racial bias – particularly in schools – must not stop here. As a black woman with natural hair, I’m determined to prevent men and women who look like me from being targeted for their appearance. We must condemn racism, discrimination and harassment today and every day.”

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