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January 4, 2022 5:25 pm

$4 Million Lawsuit Alleges Hebrew Israelite High School Football Player Was Forced to Eat Pepperoni Pizza

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Canton McKinley Senior High School in Canton, Ohio. Photo: CCSDistrict / Wikimedia Commons

An Ohio former high school football player is suing the Canton City School District over allegations that his head coach forced him to eat pizza soaked in pepperoni grease, violating his religious beliefs, as punishment for missing a team workout.

The $4 million federal suit was filed in the Ohio Northern District Court on Dec. 29 by the family of the ex-McKinley High School student — a Black Hebrew Israelite, identified in court documents as “K.W.,” who is forbidden from eating pork or its residue. The suit claims that the student’s civil rights were violated when head coach Marcus Wattley threatened to cut him from the roster unless he consumed the pizza in front of his teammates while they lifted weights.

Last year, according the local newspaper The Repository, K.W.’s allegations prompted the firing of Marcus Wattley and several assistant coaches. At a press conference in June, K.W.’s father, Kenny Walker, and his lawyer, Ed Gilbert, threatened to sue the district but began settlement negotiations. Those have since broken down, the Repository said, prompting the recent filing.

Canton City School District Superintendent Jeff Talbert, also named as a defendant in the suit, told the paper Saturday that the family’s claims are “without merit” and will be addressed “through the legal process.”

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Peter Pattakos, an attorney representing Wattley and other coaches named in the suit, told The Repository that the allegations were “false and defamatory.” He has previously said that K.W. was offered chicken nuggets as an alternative but declined them, choosing to remove the pepperoni from the pizza pie before eating it.

K.W. has since transferred to another school district over backlash surrounding the incident, according to the lawsuit.

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