Many years ago, the late B.B. King cut a record called “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” Many of us have done just that, but, as we mature, we hopefully learn patience. One could make a strong argument that it seems to be human nature to react quickly and emotionally to critical issues without thinking things through.
I have learned through trial and error that it is often best to wait, let the waves of emotion pass, take time to gather all the facts, and listen to those with first-hand information prior to commenting. That is one reasonI have just recently formed conclusions regarding Buena Regional High School wrestler Andrew Johnson being forced to allow someone to cut off his dreadlocks in order to participate in a wrestling match.
What has continued to resonate with me is all of those who claim to know so much about high-school wrestling and concluded that “the rules are the rules” and that they apply to everyone. Well, it now appears that no one in charge seems to know exactly what those rules are. It is certainly reasonable to conclude that if numerous adults and associations that administer the rules cannot agree on what they are, they cannot be properly or fairly enforced.
Let’s talk first about the young man’s hairstyle. Dreadlocks are one of the oldest hairstyles, reportedly first worn in ancient India. Today, dreadlocks have been adopted by men and women all over the world, but have been most closely associated with black culture. One of the first individuals I can recall seeing with “locs” was Bob Marley. He almost singlehandedly connected them with the Rastafarian movement, Jamaica and reggae music.
This all seems pretty simple but, unfortunately, there is at least one caveat: Dreadlocks are intimidating to many people. Dreadlocks scare them to death and makes them very uncomfortable.
Truth be told, many, like the referee who gave the ultimatum to young wrestler Johnson to cut his hair during a meet, do not know the difference between braids and dreadlocks. So, fear prompts many to react unreasonably to this strange, “foreign” hairstyle. I have both male and female friends who have worn locs for decades and say that when they go out in public, others on the sidewalk stop, stare and let them pass as if Moses were once again parting the Red Sea. It would be funny if it were not so sad.
In relation to Johnson’s case, numerous reports indicate that officials in charge of wrestling either do not know the rules pertaining to hair length or are unable to interpret them consistently. One recent article indicated that when Johnson returned to the mat this month — after having his dreadlocks forcibly shorn — a different referee told him he’d still have to cover his hair. The meet was initially called off.
This time, the student’s mother was there to support her son, and asked “Why?” That’s when those in charge started backpeddling. It seems that she still hasn’t gotten a reasonable answer.
Subsequently, Roy Dragon, a top New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association wrestling official, sent out a photograph of a black wrestler as an example of styles that need a hair covering. This directive was then contradicted by Elliott Hopkins, director of sports, sanctioning and student services for the National Federation of State High School Associations, the national governing body for high-school wrestling. He wrote that the wrestler in the example — similar to Johnson’s hair after it was cut — would not require a hair covering. No one in charge seems to know what the heck they are doing, so they keep punishing Johnson for absolutely nothing.
I, for one, do not want to hear anything more about “the rules are the rules” when nobody knows what the rules are. Everyone associated with high school sports and wrestling in particular should be embarrassed. There is now at least one authoritative finding that Johnson’s hair does not violate any rule. No one, absolutely no one, should have cut his hair.
Johnson supported his team and agreed to the haircut rather than forfeit his match. Instead, his wrestling team should have supported Johnson and walked out of that gym. The “rules are rules” camp should ponder this: Rules are enacted to maintain order. When a rule instead creates chaos, as in this case, it’s time to throw it out and get a new rule that not only helps maintain order, but is fair.
Milton W. Hinton Jr. is retired as director of equal opportunity for the Gloucester County government, and is past president of the Gloucester County Branch NAACP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org