CANTON, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio high school football player who claims coaches forced him to eat pizza covered in pepperoni grease in violation of his religious beliefs is suing his former district and the ousted coaches.
The former Canton McKinley high school athlete and his parents filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week seeking millions of dollars in damages and alleging violations of his religious freedom and constitutional rights.
The athlete says in the lawsuit that the coaches were told he didn’t eat pork or pork scraps as a member of the Hebrew Israelite religious faith, but they ordered him to eat the pizza as a substitute. of punishment for missing an off-season practice – and indicating his place in the team was in jeopardy if he didn’t.
The coaches say the player chose to take the pepperoni off and eat the pizza instead of an alternative food. They had no idea it violated his religious beliefs, according to a defamation lawsuit they previously filed against the teen’s father, his lawyer and school officials.
A lawyer representing most of the coaches, Peter Pattakos, told The Repository of Canton newspaper they had statements from more than a dozen eyewitnesses indicating the family’s allegations were false.
Canton City School District Superintendent Jeff Talbert said in a written statement that the claims in the family’s lawsuit were without merit and that the school board would address them through legal process, the newspaper reported.
The district suspended several coaches after the allegations arose. The board subsequently voted not to renew the coaching contracts of four coaches and deemed three other assistant coaches ineligible for future coaching positions.
The now 18-year-old student was transferred to another district after facing “threats and ridicule” from teammates and the public because of the situation, according to his lawsuit.
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