Ohio football coaches sue for defamation in pizza incident
Six former football coaches are suing five Canton City, Ohio school officials and four others after they were suspended or fired for allegedly forcing a player to eat pork pizza against his religious beliefs, multiple news outlets reported on Tuesday.
The defamation lawsuit filed on Monday stems from a complaint made in May about former Canton McKinley head coach Marcus Wattley along with his five assistants forcing a player to eat pizza in the middle of the gym while his teammates ran laps.
The “royal treatment” discipline was allegedly meant to teach the player a lesson about teamwork, responsibility and accountability after unacceptable off-the-field behavior, the coaches said, according to the Canton Repository.
According to the lawsuit, the coaching staff was unaware of the player’s Hebrew beliefs — which prohibits eating pork — but said that the 17-year-old player was given the option to eat chicken nuggets instead of the pepperoni pizza. The player chose to eat the pizza after removing the toppings, according to the AP.
The coaches’ attorney, Peter Pattakos, accused the school officials, the player’s father Kenny Walker, fellow attorney Edward Gilbert, and former football coach Josh Grimsley of implying that his clients took part in hazing, which is a criminal offense, according to the Repository.
Pattakos added that the school district endorsed these “salacious and defamatory” accusations, noting that Wattley was replaced by a personal friend of the board members while he awaits a termination hearing.
The defamation lawsuit comes after the school district suspended and later fired three of the coaches involved. The lawsuit seeks compensation for the damages done to the coaches’ reputations, diminished pay, and the mental distress they suffered in the aftermath of this incident, the Canton Repository noted.
Gilbert told the Canton newspaper that the new defamation lawsuit is a “publicity stunt.”