Ohio coaches fired for pizza incident file defamation suit


CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Six Ohio high school football coaches who were fired when a father complained his son was forced to eat a pork-based pepperoni pizza in violation of his religious beliefs have sued the parent, his attorney, school officials and others for defamation.

The plaintiffs are former Canton McKinley head coach Marcus Wattley and five assistants, according to The Canton Repository.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Stark County said the player chose to remove pepperoni and cheese and eat the pizza instead of chicken nuggets when disciplined on May 24 for off-the-field behavior. Teammates ran laps for 20 minutes while carrying 45-pound (20-kilogram) weights as the teen sat in the middle of the gym and ate the pizza.

The coaches were unaware at the time that eating pork violated the player’s Hebrew Israelite religious beliefs, the complaint said.

The player’s father, Kenny Walker, said his 17-year-old son was disciplined for missing a voluntary workout because of a shoulder injury.

Canton schools Superintendent Jeff Talbert suspended the coaches with pay on May 26. The school board fired them from their coaching positions a week later. Three coaches were fired from their school jobs on June 24 while Wattley was suspended without pay from his administrative position as a school athletic liaison. He faces a termination hearing.

Except for Walker’s attorney, Edward Gilbert, defendants contacted by the newspaper either could not be reached or declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Gilbert told the newspaper the defamation suit was a “publicity stunt” and that he looked forward to defending himself and Walker.

Among those sued was former assistant coach Josh Grimsley, who reported the incident to Walker and subsequently lost his coaching contract and job as a school resource assistant.