Former Canton-McKinley football coaches sue school district leaders, father of athlete at center of pizza scandal

Canton McKinley High School incident
Canton McKinley High School incident(Source: Provided to WOIO)
Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 10:33 PM EDT
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STARK COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Six former Canton-McKinley High School football coaches have filed a civil lawsuit alleging district leaders and a player’s father and attorney defamed them, damaged their reputations and caused the loss of their jobs with the football team.

Marcus Wattley and former members of his coaching staff, including Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat, Romero Harris, Cade Brodie, and Tyler Thatcher, are seeking compensation for damage to their reputations caused by what they say are “false, malicious, and extremely defamatory statements” made by the defendants.

Read the complaint provided to 19 News by the Pattakos Law Firm here:

The lawsuit names as a defendant every member of the Canton City School District board of education, the district superintendent, Jeff Talbert, the player’s father, Kenny Walker, and his attorney, and the coach who initially blew the whistle on the pizza controversy, Josh Grimsley. School board members named in the lawsuit include Kim Brown, David Kaminski, Eric Resnick, John Rinaldi, and Scott Russ.

This legal action stems from an incident where coaches allegedly forced a member of the football team to eat a pepperoni pizza in violation of his religious beliefs during a conditioning session.

The lawsuit said that the incident was an attempt to teach an underperforming player a lesson by giving him “royal treatment” while other players on his team ran drills. District leaders, it says, repeatedly ignored the coaches’ request to consider evidence demonstrating their innocence.

Edward Gilbert, the attorney for the 17-year-old student-athlete, called the lawsuit desperate.

“The lawsuit is a joke. It is shameful that Mr. Wattley and his attorney have stooped so low to get a publicity stunt, knowing full well that there is a criminal investigation,” said Gilbert, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. “It is abuse of process, and it really is sad.”

The coaches were fired from their coaching positions in early June. Three later lost their day jobs with the district when the board declined to renew their contracts later that same month.

“The incident on May 24th involving the football team used a demeaning, divisive, and misguided approach of discipline on our players. It was concluded following a review of the video of the incident and conducting interviews that the coaches conducted themselves in a manner that is not consistent with our values as a school district. We have a commitment to protecting the safety and security of our students both physically and mentally,” said Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Talbert.

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