Marcus Wattley

Canton McKinley High School football coach Marcus Wattley and six other coaches at the school were ousted after a football player said he was forced him to eat pork in violation of his religious beliefs for missing a voluntary workout. 

Following a due-process hearing with the Canton City School District June 8, the attorney for Canton McKinley Senior High football coach Marcus Wattley came forward with more rebuttals to the original claims by a Hebrew Israelite player who allegedly was forced to eat pork.

Peter Pattakos of the Peter Pattakos Law Firm in Fairlawn alleged the player was offered chicken tenders after he declined the pepperoni pizza supplied by the coach.

Edward L. Gilbert of the Edward L. Gilbert Co. in Akron, the attorney representing the player and his family, told the Cleveland Jewish News June 4 the player missed a voluntary workout on May 20 while nursing a shoulder injury. Following the day off and the weekend, Wattley and the assistant coaches told him to go to the gym and eat an entire pepperoni pizza in front of about 35 teammates, according to Gilbert.

Pattakos also alleged the player , who has not been identified, was present at practice the following day after the incident.

The rising senior is a Hebrew Israelite. This religion forbids the consumption of pork or any pork residue on foods.

The player had previously made it known that he does not eat pork, and the team had accommodated that previously during team meals. According to Gilbert, the player repeated “at least 10 times” during this incident that he cannot eat pork. Wattley allowed the player to remove pepperoni before eating it, but pork residue still remained.

But Pattakos said Wattley offered chicken fingers once the player objected to the pizza.

Pattakos called the allegation “a complete fabrication,” in a June 6 interview with the Cleveland Jewish News.

Pattakos told the CJN there were multiple players from the McKinley football team at the Canton City School District’s special meeting on June 3, who were there to support Wattley. At that meeting, the school board voted unanimously not to renew the contract for Wattley and six other assistant coaches. Assistant coaches Cade Brodie, Joshua Grimsley, Romero Harris, Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat and Tyler Thatcher also will not have their extracurricular contracts renewed after the 2020-21 school year. They had been on paid administrative leave.

“It’s actually very troubling how much was reported on TV news (June 3) that, not only did not reference those boys, but presented a story that was so much different than what those boys were there jumping out of their shoes to tell,” Pattakos said.

Wattley, who was also an athletic-academic liaison with the school, was hired in 2019 as the first Black head coach in school history.

Pattakos said he has requested to see surveillance video of the room in which the incident allegedly happened. He said he has spoken to “a dozen people” who were either in the room or “very closely affiliated with the program” who have said the player was not forced to eat anything. He added that had there been sound on the video, people would be able to hear Wattley tell the player he can leave “at any time.”

“Where is your evidence showing that it happened?” Pattakos said to reporters after the June 8 hearing. “It contradicts the voices of all of these coaches and players that have been jumping out of their shoes to tell what really happened. The district still seems to not want to hear what those young men have to say.”

According to Pattakos, school officials spoke to three people out of the 60 people in the room where the incident allegedly took place. Those three people were Wattley, the player who accused Wattley of the incident, and an assistant coach who Pattakos wouldn’t name.

“I was very predisposed to trust Marcus Wattley, because Marcus Wattley’s reputation in this community, in the Northeast Ohio community, is impeccable,” Pattakos said. “And that’s why he got that job in the first place at Canton McKinley.”

This is a developing story. 

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