The 17-year-old student, who hasn’t been named, is a rising senior at Canton McKinley High School, where he was an offensive lineman on the football team. After skipping an earlier weightlifting session because of an injury, the team’s coaches told him to eat an entire pepperoni pizza as punishment on May 24, while his teammates were forced to carry heavy weight disks as they exercised around him, attorney Edward Gilbert said.
The teenager reminded the head coach multiple times that he did not eat pork. The student had previously told coaching staff multiple times that he was a Hebrew Israelite, and did not eat pork because of his religion, the attorney added.
“It is our contention that the coach was fully aware of this and intentionally ordered a pork pizza for this punishment,” Gilbert said.
After the coaches yelled at him and threatened the team with more exercises, the student was allowed to take off the pepperoni slices and some of the cheese and subsequently ate the pizza, despite considering it still unclean because of pork residue, according to the attorney.
Head Football Coach Marcus Wattley did not respond to requests for comment made to emails and phone numbers listed for him.
“The Canton Police Department was contacted yesterday by the school system to make a report for the alleged possible hazing incident,” Police Chief Jack Angelo told CNN. “We are currently investigating and our results will be turned over to the Canton City Prosecutors Office for a determination on any charges.”
Superintendent Jeff Talbert issued a statement on the district’s website Wednesday saying, in part, that the school’s initial investigation into the incident has concluded and that discipline will follow.
“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,” Talbert said. “This behavior will not be tolerated and further disciplinary measures for staff, which have not yet been determined, will follow.”
The student is seeking to be transferred to another school after the “traumatic” episode, and has had to seek therapy, Gilbert told CNN.
“You look at coaches as role models,” Gilbert said. “Trust has been violated here.”