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June 4, 2021 1:38 pm
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High School Football Coaches Fired for Forcing Student to Eat Pork Against Religious Beliefs

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A pepperoni pizza (illustrative). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The head football coach and six of his assistant coaches at McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio, have been fired for forcing an athlete to eat pork against his religious beliefs as punishment for missing a workout, according to the local newspaper The Repository.

The Canton City school board voted unanimously on Thursday not to renew the coaching contracts of head coach Marcus Wattley, assistant coaches Cade Brodie and Tyler Thatcher, and assistant baseball coach Romero Harris, who has related weight room duties. The board also decided that assistant football coaches Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat and Josh Grimsley were ineligible for future coaching positions. In a separate vote, the five-member board unanimously hired the district’s interim head football coach for the upcoming sports season.

The district sent its investigation to the Ohio Department of Education’s professional conduct division and the Canton City Police Department for review.

The family of Hebrew Israelite football player at McKinley High School accused Wattley and his assistant coaches of forcing the 17-year-old athlete to eat an entire pepperoni pizza — against his faith’s dietary restrictions — on May 24, as punishment for missing a voluntary May 20 strengthening and conditioning workout in the high school’s gym.

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Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Talbert said the district’s nearly weeklong investigation into the matter, which included reviewing surveillance footage, found that the coaches’ actions were “inappropriate, demeaning and divisive.” Talbert added that assistant football coach Badre El Bardawil, who was suspended on May 26 with the other coaches amid the investigation, will remain an assistant coach because the evidence “did not show that he performed in the same manner as the other coaches.”

Wattley’s lawyer, Peter Pattakos, slammed the district on Thursday for conducting a “rushed and incomplete” investigation and said Talbert and every board member who approved this decision “should be ashamed.” He blamed an assistant coach, who he said wanted Wattley’s job, for exacerbating the situation by reporting an exaggerated version of events to administrators and the player’s family.

Pattakos claimed that elements of the student’s family’s version of the May 24 events were exaggerated and false, an allegation supported by five other McKinley football players, who attended the school board meeting to support their coaches.

According to Pattakos and the five peers, the student was able to leave the gym at any time after being offered the pepperoni pizza, with Wattley offering chicken nuggets as a substitute after the player had said he doesn’t eat pork. They said the teen chose to remove the pepperoni and eat the pizza, and added that he has since apologized to them and the coaches.

Wattley believes he did nothing wrong, according to his lawyer. Pattakos said, “There was no intent (to cause harm). He was doing his best to teach an extraordinary athlete an important lesson.”

Ed Gilbert, the lawyer representing the student and his family, said on Thursday that while he welcomes the school board’s decision to dismiss the coaches, “There is no joy in seeing this … We have a number of careers that have been destroyed here. Nobody wins in this.” Gilbert also disputed Pattakos’ claim that Wattley offered the teen chicken nuggets as an alternative to the pepperoni pizza.

The student is undergoing psychological counseling because of the incident, his lawyer said.

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