CANTON, Ohio (WJW) — The Canton City School District Board of Education held a meeting Thursday evening to discuss discipline for a group of football coaches.
During the meeting, the school board voted unanimously to terminate district employment of Joshua Grimsley, Frank McLeod and Zachary Sweat.
Coach Marcus Wattley was suspended without pay from his district job, pending full termination review.
Peter Pattakos, attorney for Wattley, released a statement to FOX 8 after the disciplinary announcement. It reads:
We have continued to urge district officials that it’s not too late to fix their mistake in overreacting to the false accusations against our clients by terminating them based on their rushed and faulty excuse for an “investigation” into the same. It has been confirmed that all three players who witnessed the event, who were the only three players the district interviewed in its so-called investigation, unequivocally rejected the false accusations, informing the district that the coaches did not force the player to eat anything, that he was offered chicken nuggets instead of the pepperoni pizza, and that he was free to leave at any point.
To be clear, not only does all of the evidence in the district’s possession conclusively refute the wild and extremely damaging accusations that my clients knowingly forced a player to eat pork against his religion, but the district also lacks any factual support that my clients did anything “inappropriate, demeaning, or divisive” that would not be entirely within any high-school coach’s discretion to do. In other words, there is a complete lack of basis for a conclusion that a coach asking a player to sit and eat a meal while his teammates perform physical exercises to teach him a lesson about responsibility and teamwork is any more or less “appropriate, demeaning, or divisive” than asking a player or his teammates to run laps or perform other physical exercises to do the same, the latter of which happens in countless instances, every day, at high-school athletic practices nationwide.
Further, given the specific facts at issue—including the student’s admitted marijuana use that was apparently causing him to display increased disrespect and insubordination to his coaches and teammates—the lesson was especially apt, and reflects, if anything, my clients’ extraordinary commitment to the well-being of their students, as has been affirmed my numerous eyewitnesses (including Mr. Talbert himself) and is not subject to a spot of doubt by anyone who is remotely familiar with the McKinley football programs’ operations under Marcus Wattley’s leadership since he was hired in 2019.
We have notified district officials that while we understand that institutional inertia has complicated their ability to admit and remedy their mistake here, if they don’t take advantage of the rapidly closing window of opportunity to voluntarily make this right, and allow for this to be the tremendous learning experience that it should be, from which the whole community may together heal, learn, and grow, we will be seeing them shortly in court where we will seek all available means of relief to vindicate the rights and reputations of Coach Wattley, Coach McLeod, and their staff.
I will add that we are extremely confident that a jury would find the district’s conduct here to be not only malicious, but deplorable, especially as they refuse to take the obvious steps necessary to remedy their mistake. This is affirmed by the response we have received from hundreds of members of the public in response to our outreach about this case, which has to date been minimal. This has also of course been affirmed by every one of the Canton McKinley football players who have gone on record to speak about this incident, including two of the three senior team leaders whom the district bothered to interview before endorsing the smear against the coaches, as well as team captain Mani Powell, who is one of the most extraordinarily successful high school athletes to ever attend Canton City Schools, and who just two days ago urged again, publicly, that “it’s clear the coaches didn’t do anything wrong,” and asked, again, “can we have them back already.Peter Pattakos, The Pattakos Law Firm LLC
FOX 8 spoke with Ed Gilbert, the attorney for the player’s family, on Thursday.
“I think the school district did the right thing. You do not want people like this teaching your children. I mean, it’s just a bad example. They are bad role models,” Gilbert said.
Adding, “They made a huge mistake for which there is no forgiving for this, and unfortunately, it’s one of those things where they do not need to be in this profession…period.”
Earlier this month, Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Talbert released a video statement to, “set the record straight” about the recent firing of seven McKinley High School football coaches. (Watch the video above for his full statement.)
According to Talbert’s statement, Wattley’s termination came after the family of a 17-year-old football player said the boy was forced to eat a pizza, then run extra drills as a form of punishment for missing practice for an injury.
The teen, who is of the Hebrew Israeli faith, objected to eating the pepperoni pizza and was eventually allowed to pick off the meat. The family’s attorney said the coach threatened to kick the boy off the team and told him his teammates would have to do extra drills if he didn’t eat the pizza.
The teen’s attorney released video of the alleged incident last week and said the boy is now attempting to pursue this matter as a hate crime.