An Ohio high school has fired a group of coaches for forcing a football player to break his religious beliefs by eating pork.
According to The Canton Repository, the Canton City Board of Education voted Thursday to not renew the coaching contracts of McKinley High School head football coach Marcus Wattley, as well as assistants Cade Brodie and Tyler Thatcher, and assistant baseball coach Romero Harris. The board also decided assistant football coaches Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat and Josh Grimsley are ineligible for future coaching positions.
The Associated Press reported that the coaches were originally suspended last week, following the 17-year-old player reporting that he was forced to eat pork on May 24. The player and his family are of the Hebrew Israelite religious faith and do not eat pork.
Attorney Ed Gilbert said the player skipped a voluntary workout due to a sore shoulder four days before the incident. As part of his punishment, the player reportedly had to sit in the middle of the gym and eat an entire pepperoni pizza while his teammates exercised around him. Gilbert told CNN that Wattley was fully aware of the religious beliefs and "intentionally ordered a pork pizza for this punishment."
Wattley’s attorney, Peter Pattakos, said the details of the event were exaggerated. Five football players attended the meeting in support of the coaches, saying that the player could have left at any time and that Wattley offered chicken nuggets instead of pizza after the player said he did not eat pork. They said the player chose to take off the pepperoni and eat the pizza.
Gilbert said the player was allowed to remove the pepperoni and some cheese, but pork residue remained. District superintendent Jeff Talbert said surveillance video provided the information administrators needed to recommend the firings to the board.
"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," school board president John Rinaldi said, according to CNN. "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."
McKinley athletic director Antonio Hall is serving as interim head football coach in 2021.
The family reportedly plans to sue the school district, while Canton police chief Jack Angelo told CNN "The Canton Police Department was contacted yesterday by the school system to make a report for the alleged possible hazing incident. We are currently investigating and our results will be turned over to the Canton City Prosecutors Office for a determination on any charges."