Eight football coaches at McKinley Senior High School in Canton,Ohio were suspended after forcing a Jewish student athlete who observes kosher dietary laws to eat a non-kosher pepperoni pizza as a punishment for missing practice.
The father of a the 17-year-old student athlete told ABC 5 that his son was forced to eat a pepperoni pizza which contained pork products in front of his entire team. The student's adhearance to traditional Kosher dietary laws prohibit consumption of any pig products.
According to Fox 59, the student, who is not named, is a tackle on the football team and has a 4.0 GPA. The family’s attorney Edward Gilbert said the player missed a voluntary workout on May 20 due to a shoulder injury. Following a day off and a weekend, the team’s head coach Marcus Wattley and seven assistant coaches told the student to sit in the middle of the gym and eat an entire box of pepperoni pizza in front of 35 teammates.
According to the lawyer, throughout the incident coaches and teammates were yelling at the player to finish the pizza, because they were threatened that they would be punished with extra workouts if he didn't finish the pizza. The coaches also said that the student might not remain on the team if he did not finish the entire pie.
The student had previously informed the coaches and his teammates that he does not eat pork, and the team had accommodated his customs during meals. According to Gilbert, the player said "at least 10 times" that he can’t eat pork. Coach Wattley finally allowed the player to remove pepperoni, but remnants of the pork remained.
In Jewish law, all ingredients in food must be kosher in addition to the dishes used to prepare the meal.
Even after finishing the pizza, the team including the Jewish student were all made to complete more drills.
Gilbert told the Cleveland Jewish News that the student has attended two counseling sessions since May 24. "This has just messed him up. Psychologically, it has really affected him. So, we’re trying to get the best psychological assistance that we can. It’s been very embarrassing and very hurtful for him."
The player’s father told ABC 5, "I felt very upset, I felt disrespected. Makes you question if they are doing their job or are they capable of doing their job. Obviously, I feel the culture is broken."
Canton City School District said that the team's head coach and seven assistants have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Gilbert told the Cleveland Jewish News, "You have people here who just don’t respect the religion. For him to order a pork pizza, he could have gotten something else. He could have gotten a veggie pizza or some other kind. But he specifically chose a pork pizza to embarrass this kid and hurt this kid. And for the other coaches to chime in and allow this to happen just shows the total ignorance and disrespect for one’s religion."
According to the attorney, the Canton Police Department is also investigating the incident as a possible criminal act. He added that the family is prepared to file a lawsuit, but hopes to mediate a resolution with the school district. Gilbert said the family is seeking an apology, assurances from the school that something like this will not happen again and to add inclusion and respect to the curriculum.
Gilbert also told the Cleveland Jewish News that the student is exploring moving to another district. "To call this poor judgment is an understatement I don’t know how this coach could have the respect of the community anymore. Coaches are role models in our community. They’re looked up to. I don’t know how this can be repaired."
A Facebook post from Canton City School District Tuesday said that a police report was filed by the district about the incident. "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 and further disciplinary measures for staff, which have not yet been determined, will follow. The District will continue to follow Board Policies and protocols regarding personnel issues. Once disciplinary measures are determined, in accordance with our commitment to transparency, we will release additional information."
The Canton City School District Board of Education scheduled a special meeting for June 3.