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Coach Wattley Marcus and seven assistants at Canton McKinley High School football have been suspended after allegedly forcing a Jewish player to violate the tenants of his religion by eating pork.
McKinley is a considered traditional Ohio football power and plays home games at Tom Benson Stadium on the campus of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The attorney for the family of the football player, Edward L. Gilbert, alleged that the football coaches knew that the player is Jewish and keeps Kosher, but demanded he eat an entire pizza anyway.
“They order him to go into the gym. He sits in a chair,” Gilbert said, via WOIO-TV. “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.”
Gilbert added that the player’s religious beliefs are known by the coaches and his teammates.
“In his view, the whole pizza was spoiled. The whole pizza was something that could not be ingested,” Gilbert said. “He was ordered to eat that, and if he did not eat it, then he would be most likely removed from the team, and the other teammates would have to do extra exercise that day. So you have the whole team around in this gym. You have eight coaches there yelling at him that he has to eat this stuff.
“It’s our view that certainly for religious reasons this was inappropriate. It was a dumb thing to do by the coach, and we haven’t been able to understand what was in this coach’s mind at the time.”
The athlete’s family is considering a lawsuit against the school district, Gilbert added, and it’s unlikely the student returns to the school.
“I know that they’re very uncomfortable, and, as you know, these coaches are role models for young men and women,” Gilbert said. “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.”
Canton McKinley is scheduled to open the 2021 season vs. Mentor High School on Aug. 20. Who the coach at that time will be remains to be seen. For now, most people believe it will not be Marcus.
Canton City Schools released the following statement on its website:
At the Canton City Schools, the safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority.
An incident occurred during a football training session that was concerning enough to warrant immediate action by the Canton City School District. That immediate action was the suspension of eight members of the High School Football Coaching Staff, including the head coach, while an investigation is conducted.
The incident calls into question whether appropriate team management, discipline, and player accountability infrastructures are in place.
The District is nearing the completion of its investigation regarding this incident. Once a conclusion is reached, following our commitment to transparency, the District will provide additional information.
The football program, which has a long and impressive history, is an important part of our school culture and our community. That program has a proud tradition of instilling the attributes of excellence, leadership, community, accountability, hard work, and respect into the players and those associated with the overall program. As such, those entrusted with the protection of our student-athletes must be held to a higher standard within our community.
Let us be clear, the Canton City School District holds all staff to the highest professional and ethical standards. Anything short of these standards is unacceptable.
As educators, we are united in the pursuit of creating an inclusive and safe learning environment for our students in the classroom and beyond.