An Ohio high school coach and six assistant coaches were fired Thursday over an incident in which they allegedly tried to force a football player to eat a pepperoni pizza despite his religious dietary restrictions forbidding pork.
The Canton City School District Board of Education made the decision during a special meeting following an investigation, FOX 8 of Cleveland reported.
The family of a 17-year-old Canton McKinley High School boy, who is part of the Hebrew Israeli faith, claimed the student was threatened with extra drills for his teammates and being kicked off the team for not eating the pizza.
Family attorney Edward Gilbert said the pork pizza was used as a punishment because the player had missed a nonmandatory practice for an injury. “What’s interesting is everyone on the team knows this child will not eat pork,” he said, according to WEWS-TV in Cleveland.
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The student was eventually allowed to take the pepperoni off to eat the pizza, FOX 8 reported.
The incident was captured on school surveillance video.
Head coach Marcus Wattley’s attorney Peter Pattakos said the student was never forced to eat the pizza.
“The idea was okay young man, you’re so special, you want special treatment, are you hungry? I’ll buy you a pizza and we can all watch you eat,” Pattakos said. “You’re the king, you’re the prince. It was along those lines. And the kid knew he was being disciplined. The coach was trying to teach a lesson.”
“This young man had every opportunity to get up and leave the room at any time,” he added.
Pattakos said Wattley had offered chicken nuggets to the player when he said he didn’t eat pork but he opted to peel off the pepperoni.
School board President John Rinaldi said, “The identified coaches engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline into student-athletes,” WEWS reported.
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An interim head coach has been named.