Eight high school football coaches in Ohio were fired for allegedly forcing a Jewish player to eat pork as a punishment for missing practice, according to reports Friday.
Head coach Marcus Wattley and seven assistant coaches at McKinley Senior High School in Canton had initially been suspended after allegedly ordering the 17-year-old to eat an entire pizza with pepperoni residue against his religious beliefs, according to the Canton Reporter.
The city school board voted unanimously Thursday not to renew Wattley’s coaching contract, after an investigation found he had engaged in “inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behavior” during the May 24 incident, the local paper reported.
Seven assistant coaches also lost their jobs.
“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,” district Superintendent Jeff Talbert said in a statement.
Talbert said the decision to strip the coaches of their jobs was made based on surveillance video of the ordeal, which took place in the school’s gym.
During the incident, the coaches allegedly forced the boy to eat the pizza because he skipped a voluntary strength and conditioning practice May 20 due to an injured shoulder.
The coaches allegedly told the boy his teammates would be forced to do extra drills — and that he would lose his position on the team — if he didn’t eat it, according to the student’s lawyer, Ed Gilbert.
“He is of the belief — and that’s what hurts him so bad — that the coach knew of his beliefs and wanted to punish him, and it’s our view that it was done intentionally and that it was a punitive act,” Gilbert told the New York Times. “The coach told him, in order to have respect and stay on this team, you have to eat the pizza.”
The teen was reportedly shouted at by coaches and teammates as he ate the pizza after removing slices of pepperoni.
Gilbert said the student is now in therapy because of the harassment.
The boy’s family has said it plans to sue the school district.