Forced to either get a haircut or forfeit the match, Johnson ultimately opted for the cut.
Video footage shared on social media by South Jersey reporter Mike Frankel shows Johnson on the sidelines, shoulders slumped as a woman begins the hacking job. As bits of him were chopped off, teammates filed in line, offering their own words of support and encouragement.
"Epitome of a team player," Frankel wrote, captioning the video. "Johnson chose the haircut, then won by sudden victory in OT to help spark Buena to a win."
— Mike Frankel (@MikeFrankelSNJ) December 20, 2018
But this wasn't a team moment, netizens would soon tell Frankel, voicing their outrage over the incident.
"Team player? By whose standards?" one Twitter user wrote. "This is unmitigated racism cloaked in a warped value system that promulgate winning at all cost. [It's] reprehensible what all of them did to that youth."
Others quickly chimed in, calling for lawsuits to be filed and stressing that the team should've just forfeited the contest instead of leaving Johnson to go through the ordeal.
— Tim Lewinson (@VancouverTim) December 21, 2018
— Amber Green (@AmSaidIt) December 21, 2018
— Nichole Kennard (@surrenderwriter) December 21, 2018
— Kelli Russell Agodon (@KelliAgodon) December 21, 2018
— Kathy Settembrino (@Kathysettembrin) December 21, 2018
— Jessica Craven #wavecast (@Craven7Jessica) December 21, 2018
The ACLU Chapter of New Jersey spoke out as well, tweeting, "This is not about hair. This is about race. How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?"
According to the Washington Post, referee Alan Maloney's ruling was linked to the National Federation of State High School Association's directive that stipulates all equipment worn during wrestling matches must fit "snug" to one's body. However, even when Johnson moved to wear his hair cap, he was refused.
Since the footage was shared, Frankel took a step back from suggesting that Johnson was simply taking one for the team, instead apologizing and admitting that he "missed the bigger picture."
Frankel noted in his post that Johnson's coaches argued against Maloney's call for "several minutes until the referee started the injury time clock."
It was later revealed that Maloney had previously been accused of discrimination, and that in 2016 he reportedly used a racial slur against a black referee during a social gathering of sports officials.
According to New Jersey Advance Media, the state athletic association has since ordered that Maloney be "sidelined until further notice." The matter has also been referred to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights for an investigation.