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Viral Clips, Hair Coverings and Rules — How do we prevent being the next NJ?

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Today footage of a varsity wrestler in NJ went viral. The video is of the wrestler having his hair cut matside in what I imagine allowed it to meet the the requirements for wrestlers’ appearance and health in accordance to NFHS rule 4-2-1.

The wrestler appears to be African-American and his hair was in medium length dreadlocks. From what I gather, his hair cover wasn’t legal because it couldn’t be attached to his headgear. It is unclear to me if the hair cover he was trying to use was the same he had worn all year, or if it was different. I read that he had misplaced his normal headgear and was using something else. I also read that it was the same head cover and no other official made a big deal about it. You can’t always believe what you read on the internet, so I guess pick whichever version you like. Either way, something was apparently wrong.

The main reason this seems to have gotten attention is the shock and awe factor of them hastily cutting the young man’s hair in the middle of the gym while he is clearly frustrated and emotional about the whole thing. Now asking a wrestler to cut their hair because their hair didn’t meet the standard/rule and they didn’t have the proper equipment has happened before, but it normally takes place in a lockerroom or wrestling room prior to the meet (as it should be addressed at the time of weigh ins). Having it happen in the middle of the gym in front of all to see is a much different thing and I can see how this video might catch the eyes of people unfamiliar with our sport.

Many are sharing and commenting on the video and many people are viewing it through a racial lense—a white ref making the ruling while a white trainer/manager cuts a black adolescents hair while his white coach stands by allowing all this to happen. I get the optics. It isn’t good. Making matters worse, the ref who made the call allegedly had been disciplined a few years ago for using a racial slur to discribe another official. Really not good optics.

All of this could and should have went differently. The ref should have addressed the hair at the weigh in. The wrestler could have had the proper legal haircovering (assuming he didn’t). The coach, ref, or AD could have decided that cutting the hair matside was wrong. All these things could have happened differently. Hopefully this viral video prevents this from happening again.

I hope to never see this happen in Indiana. But it very well could. I could almost have seen it happen on my mat. As a ref, I have had to enforce this rule matside—just last weekend, even, at a multi-team individual tournament. Another ref forgot to check for hair coverings (probably assuming wrestlers had them but didn’t bring them to be approved as special equipment) during skin check and the the offending wrestler came onto the mat with hair similar to the boy in the viral video. Luckily the wrestler’s teammates had a spare legal covering and they were able to correct it (in my experience, this has always been the case). The offending wrestler pinned his opponent in the first period so the penalty didn’t play a factor. After the match he and his coach said they didn’t realize he needed the hair cover and said he had been wrestling like this all year. This is a problem.

I’ve had wrestlers try to use pantyhose, skull caps that don’t meet NHFS regulations, swim caps, and even had a wrestler try to use a textbook cover as hair covers. Luckily they were all shut down during weigh-in/skin checks. If, in the heat of the moment, a wrestler didn’t have the proper equipment available like in the situation I mentioned above, I can imaging seeing a coach quickly doing something like this and me—with everything that refs have on their mind at a tournament—not thinking about how it might look or if it is appropriate letting it happen.

We can do better to prevent these situations.

I don’t know if the official was making the kid cut his hair because of racial bias. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I try not to figure out intent—that isn’t my job. As a ref, I only see two colors: red and green. But I totally can see how this has become story. In the age of social media, stuff like this spreads fast and many people don’t care to look at all the facts. If this happened in the heat of the moment at a meet that I was working, I surely wouldn’t want people assocating my name with racism and hatred.

So...let’s make sure this doesn’t happen in the Hoosier state. Below are some rules for this year’s verson of the rule book that partain to this issue.

Rule 4-2-1

During competition all wrestlers shall be clean shaven, with sideburns trimmed no lower than earlobe level and hair trimmed and well groomed. The hair, in its natural state, shall not extend below the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below the earlobe level; in the back; and on the sides, the hair shall not extend below earlobe level; in the front, the hair shall not extend below the eyebrows. A neatly trimmed mustache that does not extend below the line of the lower lip shall be permissible. If an individual has hair longer than allowed by rule, it may be braided or rolled if it is contained in a cover so that the hair rule is satisfied. The legal hair cover shall be attached to the ear guards. A bandanna is not considered a legal hair cover. The legal hair cover must be of solid material and be nonabrasive. The wrestler opting to wear a legal hair cover must wear it to the weigh-in procedure and be checked for grooming with it on. The legal hair cover must be removed prior to the wrestler stepping on the scale to be weighed. If a referee is not present at the weigh-ins, the hair cover must be checked by the meet referee upon arrival at the site.

If an individual has facial hair it must be covered with a face mask. All legal hair covers and face masks will be considered special equipment. If an individual’s hair is as abrasive as an unshaved face, the individual shall be required to shave the head as smooth as a face is required or wear legal hair cover.

7-3-5

Reporting to the scorers table, not properly equipt, or not ready to wrestle or any equipment that is detected as being illegal after the match as started is a technical violation.

According to 5-27, technical violations are to be penalized without warning.

Rule 8 covers penalties and injuries. 8-1-1 states:

Any contestant reporting to the scorers’ table not properly equipped or not ready to wrestle is a technical violation. A wrestler with greasy substance on the body or uniform, improper grooming, objectionable pads and braces, illegal equipment, illegal uniform or any equipment that is detected as being illegal after the match has started shall be disqualified if not removed or corrected within the 1 1/2-minute injury time.

...

Most refs don’t want to be bad guys. We want to grow the sport. Help us avoid these types of calls by familiarizing yourselves with the rules and please share the information and knowledge you have gained with others.

Also, if you have questions about these or any other rules, please use this site’s “Ask the Officials” Forum. A lot of times great questions can help us dig deeper into our knowledge of the rules and make us better officials...and from what I hear, everyone wants better officials.

Edited by runner-up
Typo

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NFHS and its members like the IHSAA are stuck in 1950. Time has passed these organizations by and it's no wonder AAU and IMG, LaLumiere, and etc have started to take over. I'm not so sure that club sports wouldn't be such a bad idea anymore. 

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Some interesting facts are coming to light that favors the referee.

1. Official start date in New Jersey was December 14th. Thus this was one of the first meets. 
2. The kid had an improper hair cover. On top of that the previous week he was allowed to wear the improper cover and him and his coach were instructed to obtain a proper one before the next event.

Also of note some states do not require a referee to be present at weigh-ins. I do not know New Jersey's rule, but this could be why it wasn't caught at weigh-ins. Or simply the coach and kid "forgot" it at weigh-ins and the ref said make sure you have it for your match like has probably been done a million times when a kid forgets his mouthpiece or hair cover.

We want refs, police officers, bosses, etc to enforce the rules, but when it comes to light about a rule we don't like somehow we can overlook it. 

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It doesn't help that Jordan Burroughs has chimed in on Twitter excoriating the official but not mentioning the fact that the coach and wrestler also share responsibility for not reporting legally equipped. I'm not condoning what transpired mat side but it's sad to see a gold medal winner perpetuate the, "It's someone else's fault," mentality. I also find it baffling that somehow the race card got played as well when the kid didn't have the proper hair covering. It truly frightens me what kind of leaders we are producing after seeing incidents like this and seeing how many people are giving the coach and wrestler a pass on their role. 

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From a ref’s perspective, it seems as though the letter of the rule was enforced correctly—a local ref says he had seen the wrestler using an illegal hair cover a week prior and told both wrestler and coach it needed to be addressed. It sounds like they didn’t address it.  The penalty point and starting the injury clock to give the wrestler time to address the issue is the right call per the rule 8-1-1 that is referenced above.

I don’t think the intent of the rule is so that kids will cut their hair matside to make it legal. I think it is more so removing a brace that might not be legal or taping laces. I imagine we will see a ruling forbidding the cutting of hair matside. You either use proper legal covering or you don’t wrestle.

I wanted to start this topic because I’ve seen my fair share of illegal hair coverings over the past years. I’ve always addressed it with the wrestler and coach, but I’ve permitted it if I didn’t think it would have the potential to cause harm (example: skull caps that don’t attach to the headgear). There is a rule emphasis that we are to not permit it. Hair coverings must be affixed to the headgear.

If you are a parent or coach of a wrestler whose hair doesn’t meet the standards, please be sure your wrestler has a legal hair covering.

I am getting frustrated reading all about this and getting texts from my nonwrestling friends asking about this. It is bad optics for our sport.

 

Edited by runner-up

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Like my previous post stated, I'm throwing this in the same category as singlet vs compression shorts & shirts. Time for this sport to evolve from the era of flat tops (trust me I'd prefer kids to have the flat tops of other styles but that's not realistic). The official is probably in the right on enforcing the rule but wrong on where it was. The racialized part comes from his past transgressions. My problem is the rule and others like it. Kids see that and say nah, I'll participate in something else that allows me to be myself. A lot of wrestling rules written and unwritten usually have little to do with how well you can wrestle and turns good athletes away. Time for more culture change!

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Last week in Springfield we had a kid that had to cut his hair at the scale and he just about cried. But I kinda laughed at him because he looked fine and no different in my eyes. Pretty sure that I shouldn’t laugh at him but I did, and don’t really care that I’m wrong. The kid made the choice to cut the hair. His choice.

The kid was Latino American and the ref was white. And In my opinion race was not a factor. 

This summer I was at NHSCA duals. We had a kid that wrestled all day. The ref told him that he had to get a proper head gear or cut his hair. The kids family member cut the sleeve off his T-shirt and we fashioned a hair cover and attached it to the head gear. The ref said that it wasn’t acceptable. So we just gave the other team the win. The kid didn’t cut the hair. His choice. 

The kid was white and the ref was Asian. And In my opinion race was not a factor. 

In this case, the kid chose to cut his hair.  It happens all the time. I seen it twice in the last 6 months. This is a non-story. And In my opinion race was not a factor. 

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8 hours ago, Mattyb said:

Last week in Springfield we had a kid that had to cut his hair at the scale and he just about cried. But I kinda laughed at him because he looked fine and no different in my eyes. Pretty sure that I shouldn’t laugh at him but I did, and don’t really care that I’m wrong. The kid made the choice to cut the hair. His choice.

The kid was Latino American and the ref was white. And In my opinion race was not a factor. 

This summer I was at NHSCA duals. We had a kid that wrestled all day. The ref told him that he had to get a proper head gear or cut his hair. The kids family member cut the sleeve off his T-shirt and we fashioned a hair cover and attached it to the head gear. The ref said that it wasn’t acceptable. So we just gave the other team the win. The kid didn’t cut the hair. His choice. 

The kid was white and the ref was Asian. And In my opinion race was not a factor. 

In this case, the kid chose to cut his hair.  It happens all the time. I seen it twice in the last 6 months. This is a non-story. And In my opinion race was not a factor. 

Agree race not being a factor. My point is, how much does hair have an impact on one's ability? Little to none, and very little safety concerns. Like it or not, (even my young you should have a buzzcut/flattop thinking self) agrees this is ridiculous and going to hurt the sport we love. Kids are different today and most will be like the kid forfeiting instead of cutting the hair. Those kids will move on to basketball, hockey, and etc. This sport already has niche vibe that turns some away. Time to adapt and grow the sport.

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Speaking of turning kids off from wrestling. This year I decided to help out at the local middle school. Last season the team had 15 kids. This season we bought two piece uniforms and showed them to the kids around school. This season we have 35 kids out. Talk about getting rid of a stigma. Hats off to the forward thinking powers to be that made a great change which has led to more kids wrestling (proven fact). I know that they didn’t come out just to hang with Mattyb! 

With all of that said, maybe the hair policy will get changed sooner or later. Who knows? This may be a great time to propose a change. 

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MattyB, well said. In the last 2 years at the Harrison 10 way, I’ve witnessed 2 haircut situations. This year a mother cut her sons hair with a set of medical scissors. Last year a wrestler obviously was advised his hair covering his eyes were against the rules, so a group of teammates helped him out matside and gave him a good ol bowl hair cut. Both instances were the wrestlers decision. Now back to the main story. Sad that this has evolved to the point that the NJ attorney general is now investigating this as a possible race issue. Coach and said wrestler could’ve/should’ve been better prepared given his hair doesn’t follow the guidelines that all other participants must adhere to. While this may be a non story to many, it’s inadvertently putting a bad look on our sport. 

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1 hour ago, Mattyb said:

With all of that said, maybe the hair policy will get changed sooner or later. Who knows? This may be a great time to propose a change. 

With the groups that are involved right now that change could be a mid-season one....

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The team won the dual handily, could the kid/coach chose not to wrestle that match?  He and his coach would have had the ability to pursue a future solution.  If it were a funding issue for proper equipment, I’m sure they could have used social media to unite everyone in financing a solution. 

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3 hours ago, JoeCoffey said:

The team won the dual handily, could the kid/coach chose not to wrestle that match?  He and his coach would have had the ability to pursue a future solution.  If it were a funding issue for proper equipment, I’m sure they could have used social media to unite everyone in financing a solution. 

I believe the wrestlers had already reported, so in essence he would have FF the match and taken the L on his record.  Not sure if that played a factor on his decision to cut his hair, but the option of not wrestling was a choice.  Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen anything mention as to why the issue wasn’t addresss during weigh-ins though.

Edited by MattM

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4 hours ago, UncleJimmy said:

Another fact that might not favor the ref that I didn’t see in Y2s fact list....hard not to become a racial issue if you’ve been reprimanded for a past racial issue ....

30695445_PNGimage.thumb.png.3986d9c054dd623962b7a5c856d927be.png

Using your logic, any time this official enforces a rule against a wrestler who is not white, it becomes a racial issue? Yikes...that is incredibly misguided bordering on ignorant. 

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19 minutes ago, AlaskanMountie said:

Using your logic, any time this official enforces a rule against a wrestler who is not white, it becomes a racial issue? Yikes...that is incredibly misguided bordering on ignorant. 

The Left will take any ammo it can dig up on a racial issue to add fuel to the fire.  If blindly presented the fact of this situation, this is a non-issue and the ref did his job.

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I heard an interview on ESPN radio with an assistant coach from that night’s  opposing team. The official was at the weighin, checked fingernails, skin and HAIR. That Official said nothing about that young man’s hair. He waited until he toed the line and shook hands with his opponent to say a word.  This Coach said in NJ those issues are handled in the locker room at weigh ins.  The opposing coach questioned the officials motives and he knew the whole story.

All of you stating that this was not racial without knowing all of the facts are being naive. What other reason would he have to wait?  To embarrass this young man publicly instead of when it should have been addressed in private? Where the only remedy would be a forfeit?  

The official should be fired and banned for life. Even if it was not racially motivated his judgment is horrible and there is no place for him in this sport. 

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10 minutes ago, AdamsCoBuschhh said:

The Left will take any ammo it can dig up on a racial issue to add fuel to the fire.  If blindly presented the fact of this situation, this is a non-issue and the ref did his job.

Ref didn’t do his job, should’ve been handled in the locker room. There are two options here, either he acted with racist intentions or he’s just bad at his job. Either way, he should not be reffing. 

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This actually kind of  happened at the ECIC yesterday. I don’t know the background exactly but in the middle of the match a ref made a kid from Muncie central cut his hair. Like I said I’m not sure if he was told at weigh ins that it was too long.

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30 minutes ago, IU89 said:

I heard an interview on ESPN radio with an assistant coach from that night’s  opposing team. The official was at the weighin, checked fingernails, skin and HAIR. That Official said nothing about that young man’s hair. He waited until he toed the line and shook hands with his opponent to say a word.  This Coach said in NJ those issues are handled in the locker room at weigh ins.  The opposing coach questioned the officials motives and he knew the whole story.

All of you stating that this was not racial without knowing all of the facts are being naive. What other reason would he have to wait?  To embarrass this young man publicly instead of when it should have been addressed in private? Where the only remedy would be a forfeit?  

The official should be fired and banned for life. Even if it was not racially motivated his judgment is horrible and there is no place for him in this sport. 

The wrestler should have had the cover at weigh-ins, so thus nothing would have needed to be said other than "that is okay" or "that is not a legal covering." The key definitely is what transpired during the weigh-ins and if the above account is true then the referee is guilty. 

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3 hours ago, IU89 said:

I heard an interview on ESPN radio with an assistant coach from that night’s  opposing team. The official was at the weighin, checked fingernails, skin and HAIR. That Official said nothing about that young man’s hair. He waited until he toed the line and shook hands with his opponent to say a word.  This Coach said in NJ those issues are handled in the locker room at weigh ins.  The opposing coach questioned the officials motives and he knew the whole story.

All of you stating that this was not racial without knowing all of the facts are being naive. What other reason would he have to wait?  To embarrass this young man publicly instead of when it should have been addressed in private? Where the only remedy would be a forfeit?  

The official should be fired and banned for life. Even if it was not racially motivated his judgment is horrible and there is no place for him in this sport. 

There is no evidence pointing to this being anything about race and for you to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. If this young man were white, would anyone be questioning this official's decision to enforce the rule? Highly doubtful. I find it comical that so many desperately try to play the race card to take attention/blame away from the coach and wrestler. Incredibly pathetic...

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17 minutes ago, AlaskanMountie said:

There is no evidence pointing to this being anything about race and for you to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. If this young man were white, would anyone be questioning this official's decision to enforce the rule? Highly doubtful. I find it comical that so many desperately try to play the race card to take attention/blame away from the coach and wrestler. Incredibly pathetic...

Pathetic that a ref had to put himself, the kid, and the coach in this position for not doing his job correctly by not taking care of it in the locker room. He has a history of a racist issue, so how do you not make a connection?

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1 hour ago, AlaskanMountie said:

There is no evidence pointing to this being anything about race and for you to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. If this young man were white, would anyone be questioning this official's decision to enforce the rule? Highly doubtful. I find it comical that so many desperately try to play the race card to take attention/blame away from the coach and wrestler. Incredibly pathetic...

Yes, you are pathetic and incredibly ignorant. Had the ref done this to ANY wrestler on the mat after approving his hair in the locker room is grounds for termination and not allowing him to ever work again. Allowing a documented racist to referee high school sports is also extremely pathetic. Also pathetic you find this situation comical. Says a lot about you to side with this POS. 

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