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Seven high school football coaches lose jobs over allegations they made a Hebrew Israelite player eat a pizza that had contained pork

Andrew Cuomo

Seven of eight Ohio high school football coaches who allegedly forced a Hebrew Israelite player to eat a pizza that previously had pork on it, despite knowing his beliefs forbade him from eating it, have been fired, according to the Canton City School District and the student’s lawyer.

They had all been previously suspended. It is unclear if the eighth coach has been exonerated of wrongdoing or if will face any further disciplinary action from the district. Local police are investigating the incident.

Following the district’s own investigation, the Canton City Board of Education voted unanimously during a special meeting Thursday evening to not renew the contracts of head football coach Marcus Wattley and the six other coaches, the board wrote in a community-wide letter.

The 17-year-old student, who hasn’t been named, is a rising senior at Canton McKinley High School, where he was an offensive lineman on the football team. After skipping an earlier weightlifting session because of an injury, the team’s coaches told him to eat an entire pepperoni pizza as punishment on May 24, while his teammates were forced to carry heavy weight disks as they exercised around him, attorney Edward Gilbert told CNN.

The teenager reminded the head coach multiple times that he did not eat pork. The student had previously told coaching staff multiple times that he was a Hebrew Israelite, and did not eat pork because of his religion, the attorney added.

“It is our contention that the coach was fully aware of this and intentionally ordered a pork pizza for this punishment,” Gilbert said.

After the coaches yelled at him and threatened the team with more exercises, the student was allowed to take off the pepperoni slices and some of the cheese and subsequently ate the pizza, despite considering it still unclean because of pork residue, according to the attorney.

Wattley did not respond to requests for comment made to emails and phone numbers listed for him.

His attorney, Peter Pattakos, told the Canton Respository that Wattley had offered the player chicken nuggets in lieu of the pepperoni pizza and that he could have left at any time. He also claimed that the investigation was “rushed and incomplete.”

CNN has reached out to Pattakos for further comment following Thursday’s decision.

The board also voted unanimously Thursday to appoint the district’s current athletic director, Antonio Hall, as interim head football coach for the 2021-2022 school year.

“The investigation found that the identified coaches engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline in the student-athletes. This behavior will not be tolerated,” John Rinaldi, school board president, said in a prepared statement after the votes.

“The football program, which has a long and proud history, is an important part of our school culture and our community. We are moving forward despite this difficult circumstance and are pleased to announce new leadership for the football program,” Rinaldi continued, adding that the district’s athletic department will “reinforce behavioral expectations” for coaching staff before the start of each season.

Police investigating

Local police are currently investigating whether any of the coaches engaged in hazing.

“The Canton Police Department was contacted yesterday by the school system to make a report for the alleged possible hazing incident,” Police Chief Jack Angelo told CNN. “We are currently investigating and our results will be turned over to the Canton City Prosecutors Office for a determination on any charges.”

CNN has reached out to district officials for more information.

The student is seeking to be transferred to another school after the “traumatic” episode, and has had to seek therapy, Gilbert told CNN.

“You look at coaches as role models,” Gilbert said. “Trust has been violated here.”

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