Attorney asks FBI to open hate crime investigation for pizza-eating incident involving Canton high school athlete

Canton McKinley High School incident
Canton McKinley High School incident(Source: Provided to WOIO)
Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 12:21 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The attorney for the teen high school football player who was allegedly forced to eat a pepperoni pizza against his religious beliefs is requesting the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office to open up a hate crime investigation in connection to the May 24 incident.

“The action of the coaching staff is deplorable,” Edward Gilbert, the attorney for the 17-year-old student-athlete, said.

Former Canton McKinley High School head football coach Marcus Wattley claims he was punishing the football player with forced eating, a practice he said he uses regularly, and that the teen was given the option to eat chicken nuggets instead of pork in the form of pepperoni on pizza.

The student and his family are Hebrew Israelite and keep kosher, meaning they don’t eat pork.

Both Gilbert and Superintendent Jeffery Talbert said Wattley’s claims are “untrue” and video provided by the Canton City School District shows that there were no chicken nugget nearby.

The video also shows several of the teen’s teammates taunt and attempt to physically assault him while they worked out in the gymnasium during the pizza eating.

Wattley’s attorney, Peter Pattakos, released a statement on Monday regarding Gilbert’s statement:

“Since Ed Gilbert first published his false and defamatory accusations that Marcus Wattley and his staff forced one of their players to eat pork, at least 14 witnesses who were in the room that day, including 6 coaches and 8 players, have gone on record to confirm that this young man was not forced to eat or do anything. Not a single witness has gone public to support Gilbert’s misinterpretation of this video. 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. Had Gilbert bothered to fulfill his most basic duties as a lawyer and interview anyone else who was in the room that day, as we have done, he would know that what he misrepresents as an “attempt” by another player to “physically assault” the alleged victim, was actually an attempt to leave the voluntary training session. This player was “held back” by teammates who wanted him to stay with his team in the spirit of the lesson of teamwork and accountability that was being conveyed that day.”

Wattley and several other coaches have since been fired from their positions with the football team.

This is a developing story.

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