Seven football coaches at a high school in the US have been fired after allegedly forcing a Jewish player to eat pork as a punishment for missing practice due to an injury.
The incident allegedly occurred at McKinley Senior High School in Canton, Ohio, with head coach Marcus Wattley and seven assistant coaches losing their jobs as a result.
The group is accused of ordering one of the 17-year-old players to eat a pizza that had pepperoni residue on it, despite it being known eating pork was against his religious beliefs, according to local media outlet the Canton Repository.
The city school board voted unanimously Thursday not to renew Mr Wattley’s and the seven other assistant coaches contracts after an investigation found he had engaged in “inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behaviour”.
“The investigation found that the identified coaches engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning, and divisive behaviour in a misguided attempt to instil discipline in the student-athletes,” district Superintendent Jeff Talbert said in a statement.
Mr Talbert said the decision to strip the coaches of their jobs was made based on surveillance video of the ordeal, which took place in the school’s gym.
“The Canton City School District holds our coaching and general staff to the highest professional and ethical standards. Anything short of these standards is unacceptable and will not be permitted,” he said.
The incident occurred after the player missed a practice on May 20 due to an injury, according to the boy’s family lawyer, Edward Gilbert.
When the teen returned to practice on May 24, the coaches allegedly told him he had to eat a pepperoni pizza otherwise his teammates would be forced to do extra drills and he would lose his position on the team.
“He is of the belief — and that’s what hurts him so bad — that the coach knew of his beliefs and wanted to punish him, and it’s our view that it was done intentionally and that it was a punitive act,” Mr Gilbert told theNew York Times.
“The coach told him, in order to have respect and stay on this team, you have to eat the pizza.”
Mr Gilbert said the teenager is now undergoing therapy as a result of the incident and his parents have plans to sue the school district.
A lawyer for Mr Wattley, Peter Pattakos, has since come out in defence of his client, claiming the version of events presented to the school board was exaggerated.
Mr Pattakos claimed the student had the ability to leave at any time and Mr Wattley had offered him chicken nuggets to eat instead after the player said he didn’t eat pork, the Canton Repository reports.
He claims the teenager chose to take the pepperoni off the pizza and eat it.
Mr Pattakos accused the district of conducting a “rushed and incomplete” investigation.
“This community deserves a full and thorough investigation and it’s obvious that this hasn’t happened,” he said.
“There was no intent (to cause harm). He was doing his best to teach an extraordinary athlete an important lesson.”