Ohio football coach fired after player claims he was forced to eat pork

CANTON, Ohio — An Ohio high school football coach and six assistants were dismissed from their positions after an allegation was made that a 17-year-old player was forced to eat pork against his religious beliefs after missing a voluntary practice.

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In a 5-0 vote, the Canton City school board on Thursday voted not to renew the coaching contract of McKinley High School head football coach Marcus Wattley, The Repository of Canton reported. The board also voted not to renew the coaching contracts of assistant coaches Cade Brodie and Tyler Thatcher, the newspaper reported. Assistant baseball coach Romero Harris, who has related weight room duties, was also dismissed. Assistant football coaches Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat and Josh Grimsley were declared ineligible for future coaching positions, according to The Repository.

The district suspended the coaches last week after the player, whose name was not revealed, reported what happened to him on May 24, the last day of classes, The Associated Press reported.

The player, a rising senior, had missed the optional strengthening and conditioning practice four days earlier, The New York Times reported. According to Ed Gilbert, the attorney for the player, the student was forced to eat an entire pepperoni pizza even though Wattley and the other coaches knew he did not eat pork because he was a Hebrew Israelite, the newspaper reported.

According to Gilbert, the player was told that his teammates would be forced to do extra drills if he refused to eat the pizza, and that his position with the team could be compromised, the Times reported.

Wattley’s attorney, Peter Pattakos, said Thursday that version of events is exaggerated and parts of it are false, The Repository reported. Pattakos said his statements were supported by five McKinley football players who attended the school board meeting in support of their coaches, the newspaper reported.

According to Pattakos and the students, the player had the choice to leave at any time and Wattley had offered the player chicken nuggets instead of the pizza, according to The Repository. The student said the player has since apologized to them and the McKinley coaches, the newspaper reported.

Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Talbert said surveillance video gave administrators the information they needed to justify their recommendations to the board, according to the AP. However, Talbert declined to provide details of what happened and said the video would not be released publicly because of federal student privacy regulations.

On Wednesday, Talbert said that a weeklong investigation showed that the coaches engaged in actions that were deemed “inappropriate, demeaning and divisive.” The Repository reported.

Wattley has been the head coach at McKinley High School since 2019, according to the school’s website. He has a 17-9 record in two seasons.

Wattley served as an assistant at the University of Akron in 2018, and was the head football coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron in 2016-17. He was an assistant at the high school from 2007 to 2015.

The Copley, Ohio, native served as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator for nine years with the Irish before becoming the head coach. He stands 17-9 overall in two seasons, according to the McKinley High website.