CANTON, Ohio (WJW) — The attorney for a McKinley High School teen says he was forced to eat pork against his religious beliefs and is now attempting to pursue this matter as a hate crime.
Video of the incident was released by attorney Edward Gilbert who represents the child’s family and given to Fox 8 Tuesday. The is no audio from the video and the video was taken from a high angle making it difficult to easily identify the people shown.
“This was a punitive act on the part of the coaches, an act that was deplorable and was designed to psychologically injure this child and we have now submitted this matter to the US Attorney as a possible hate crime and I understand as of yesterday they turned it over the FBI for a full investigation,” said Gilbert.
Gilbert said his client identifies as a Hebrew Israelite and does not believe in eating pork for religious reasons.
The video shows the student seated in the middle of the gym surrounded by teammates from a distance holding weights for exercise.
At one point it appears a pizza box is set in front of the teen who kicks it away. A man, possibly a coach, picks up the box and brings it back to the teen who later in the video is seen eating the food inside.
“At least 14 witnesses who were in the room that day including six coaches and eight players have gone on record to confirm this young man was not forced to eat or do anything,” said attorney Peter Pattakos.
Pattakos represents terminated head coach Marcus Wattley who along with several other football coaches was fired after the May 24 incident by the Canton School Board.
He said the teenager voluntarily participated in a team building exercise and the coaches did not have prior knowledge of religious beliefs that would prevent the teen from eating pepperoni pizza.
“When he said, ‘I don’t eat pork’ the coaches said, ‘We will get you chicken instead’ and he said, ‘It’s OK, I’ll eat the pizza,'” said Pattakos.
Gilbert argued the video proves what the teen said all along that he was made to eat pepperoni pizza by coaches.
Pattakos said the point of the exercise in question was to teach the student what is like to be the, “Only man eating and relaxing in a room full of hungry working men.” He said it was what the coaches were trying to get across to the student and “everyone in the room knew it, including this young man.”
He added it is “ridiculous” for Gilbert to request the incident be investigated as a hate crime.
“I can ask Santa Claus to bring me a unicorn for Christmas too and we think those two requests are very comparable in this instance,” he said.
As standard protocol, a spokesperson for the FBI in Cleveland said the agency does not confirm or deny ongoing investigations.