A high school football coach was placed on administrative leave Wednesday after he reportedly forced a football player to violate the tenets of his religion by eating pork.
The Canton City School district also suspended an additional seven other members of the high school football coaching staff.
“I mean it just crosses a line on every level, it’s just wrong,” said the family’s attorney, Edward L. Gilbert.
Coach Wattley Marcus and seven assistant coaches forced a McKinley High School football player to eat a pepperoni pizza after the 17-year-old student-athlete missed a weight lifting session on May 20, according to the family’s attorney Edward L. Gilbert.
What happened four days later as punishment for missing the practice was traumatizing and disrespectful for the McKinley High junior, who is Jewish and keeps Kosher, Gilbert said.
“They order him to go into the gym. He sits in a chair,” said Gilbert. “There is a pizza box on the floor. He picks up the pizza — they tell him he has to, as punishment, eat that whole pizza.”
It is common knowledge among the football community, Gilbert said, that the 17-year-old does not eat pork for religious reasons.
“To punish a kid thing like this for his religious beliefs is certainly beyond, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Beyond the possibility of a lawsuit, the athlete and his family are trying to navigate the social and emotional fallout from the incident.
“I know that they’re very uncomfortable, and, as you know, these coaches are role models for young men and women,” said Gilbert. “It’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives. We don’t know if he’s gonna go back to the school or not. Most likely he will not.”
Coach Wattley Marcus and seven assistant coaches forced a football player to eat a pepperoni pizza after the 17-year-old missed a weight lifting session on May 20, according to the family's attorney. https://t.co/ZLX3db9jBn— WDBJ7 (@WDBJ7) June 2, 2021
Gilbert says this young man is a star athlete, and even though he’s only a junior, he’s already been offered full rides to several colleges.
Now his family is unsure if he’ll return to McKinley high or its esteemed football program.