I want to tell you something about that kid who had to cut his dreads to wrestle.
The ref is the villain of this story. But the failure is not his. He has been honest about who he is.
The failure rests elsewhere.
Andrew Johnson is 16 years old. I know 16 year olds. They were my whole career. And I don’t need to know him personally to know things about him.
Like how he’s stuck in that difficult place between childhood and adulthood where it’s not always clear to him when he has the right to speak for himself.
That his default is still to defer to the adults in charge when he thinks he’s on shaky ground.
That he still believes people like teachers and coaches will defend him from those who would hurt him.
They are on the ones who failed him.
I watched the video of the trainer cutting his hair once. I yelled at her to stop, stop, stop. I waited for a coach to grab the scissors. I waited for someone’s mama, anyone’s mama to rush to the floor, wrap her arms around him and protect him.
We don’t know how Andrew feels about all this today, because he hasn’t spoken yet. But we saw how he felt about it after the match. And as I watched him cry, I knew one thing:
Not worth it, not worth it, not worth.
I wish to God that the story had been about the high school athletic trainer who was fired because she refused to cut a boy’s hair for a wrestling match. Or the coach who was arrested for unruly behavior towards a ref. Or at the very least, suspended from coaching for forfeiting the whole meet in protest of the ref’s decision.
I wish the video was of parents who came down from the stands and stood around the boy to protect him. Or all the coaches at the meet throwing the ref out of the gym.
Instead, there were adults who thought a forfeit was worse than cutting a child’s hair off his head.
Adults who thought their stony silence was enough.
Adults who should have known better.
Just a few years ago, I would have read this as a story about a nasty bigot. But since then, some of us have been forced to face truth about how far we have come with racial equality. Not as far as we thought. Only 13% of Division 1 college wrestlers are African-American, which means the sport is weak at recognizing and responding to racism in its ranks.
This was it. An abuse of power by a man who had previously demonstrated his bigotry and been allowed to return to interacting with young athletes. And the complete failure of the adults around Andrew Johnson to protect him from that abuse.
Bigots need permission. Everyone who stood and watched gave it to him.