CANTON, Ohio (WJW) – The attorney representing several Canton McKinley football coaches fired after being accused of forcing a player to eat pepperoni pizza against his religion said the religious discrimination claim is “completely fabricated.”
New deposition transcripts state the student admitted he did not inform his coaches eating pork was prohibited due to religious beliefs prior to the incident.
Last year, the attorney representing the student accused coaches of committing a hate crime and filed a lawsuit against coaches, the Canton City School District and board of education in U.S. District Court.
“These coaches were smeared in the national and international press,” said Peter Pattakos, representing the majority of the coaches fired. “As soon as these accusations first surfaced, many eyewitnesses immediately went on record to confirm that they were false.”
Three of the coaches were at Pattakos’ office Thursday and stated their reputations and future employment opportunities are ruined over a false claim.
“I feel like the truth is starting to come out,” said former head football coach Marcus Wattley. “People can understand that we were six guys, we were trying to help kids. That’s what we were trying to do.”
Deposition transcripts provided by Pattakos show the student stated he believed the coaches cared about him.
“For it to get out of hand and get that far. I felt like I was getting crucified, to be honest with you,” said former assistance coach Frank McLeod who played for the high school as student.
Pattakos said the attorney representing the student had no justification to allege a hate crime and stopped answering questions during a recent deposition with his legal counsel.
Another assistant coach, part of the seven terminated, according to Pattakos, misrepresented the facts of the pizza incident to the student’s father, triggering the terminations and eventual lawsuit.
“It’s tough for me because McKinley was a place I graduated from and it meant something to me,” said Romero Harris, a former strength and conditioning coach. “I was very passionate about being there.”
A spokesperson for the Canton City School District said they do not comment on pending legal matters. The attorney representing the student requested all inquiries be sent to his own legal counsel, who did not respond.
Pattakos said mediation failed this week and will head to a jury trial in September.
“This was a fraud from the beginning and these gentlemen need justice,” said Pattakos.