CANTON, Ohio — The lawyer for a Canton McKinley High School football player has released video that he says contradicts claims that the student was not forced to consume a pepperoni pizza in violation of his religious beliefs.
The video gives the public its first view of what took place during a team conditioning session on May 24.
The 17-year-old player’s family is suing the district over the incident. The player is a practicing Hebrew Israelite, a religion which bans the consumption of pork.
Head Coach Marcus Wattley and six assistants have since been fired as a result of the incident. Canton police are investigating potential hazing charges.
The coaches have hired their own attorney in an effort to regain their jobs. They contended the student was given an option of eating chicken nuggets. It's a claim the player's attorney disputes.
“However, because of misstatements in social media, and certain news forums headed by the fired Head Coach, Marcus Wattley, we feel compelled to present the truth to the community,” attorney Edward Gilbert said in a statement Tuesday.
“The false claim that the child had an option of eating either the pizza or "chicken McNuggets" is simply untrue. You will see no chicken McNuggets in this video. Further, you will see that the child was the subject of taunting by several teammates. One of which attempted to physically assault the child and had to be held back several times.”
You can watch the entire video in the player below:
Gilbert then condemned the actions of the staff and voiced the family’s desire for a federal investigation.
“The action of the coaching staff is deplorable. This is why the family has now asked the U.S. District Attorney and FBI to open an investigation to determine if there was a criminal violation involving the Hate Crime Acts based on religious beliefs.”
District officials declined further comment on Gilbert’s statement, instead referring us to prior remarks defending the dismissal of the coaches. They read, in part:
"Let us be clear, the Canton City School District holds our coaching and general staff to the highest professional and ethical standards. Anything short of these standards is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
"Although this has been a difficult situation, this incident does not reflect the Canton City School District’s culture of protecting the physical and emotional wellbeing of our students. We have a culture that is committed to excellence for our students and staff. As we move forward, we are dedicated to delivering on that commitment."
Peter Pattakos, the attorney representing Marcus Wattley, disagreed with Gilbert’s versions of events, and said Gilbert is misinterpreting the video.
Pattakos issued a statement to 3News that read in part, “Now that the truth has come out, Gilbert is apparently desperate, and sadly unable to admit his mistake, so he has now decided to release the silent video and compound his lies about it, which continue to be unsupported by a single witness.”
Pattakos has continually said that Wattley and his staff did not force the student to eat pork against his religion.
- 'False and inaccurate': Canton superintendent hits back at attorney who claims McKinley football coach was wrongly fired
- Canton McKinley football coach Marcus Wattley, 6 assistants fired following misconduct investigation
- Father of Canton McKinley football player says coaches forced son to eat food against his religion as punishment
Editor's Note: The below video features Canton City School Supertintendent Jeff Talbert responding to accusations made by the attorney of Marcus Wattley, saying the district did nothing wrong when it voted to dismiss Wattley and six of his assistants.