Eight high school football coaches have been fired from a Canton, Ohio high school with a legendary football program and could face criminal hazing charges after a 17-year-old player said he was forced to eat pork in violation of his religious beliefs as a Black Hebrew Israelite.
Ed Gilbert, a lawyer for the teen player’s family, announced plans to sue the school district, ESPN reported. The player and his family are members of the Hebrew Israelite religious faith and do not eat pork.
The player skipped a voluntary practice with a sore shoulder, ESPN reported. When he returned to practice four days later at McKinley Senior High School, he was punished by being forced to sit in the middle of the gym and eat a whole pepperoni pizza while his coaches and teammates watched, according to Gilbert. He was allowed to remove the pepperoni and some of the cheese, but pork residue remained, Gilbert said.
McKinley Senior High School’s head football coach, Marcus Wattley, was one of the coaches whose coaching contracts will not be renewed by the Canton City Board of Education, which voted unanimously Thursday. Two of Wattley’s assistants and an assistant baseball coach were also ousted, The Canton Repository reported. Three other assistant football coaches were deemed ineligible for future coaching positions.
The head coach told the teen player that he had to eat a pepperoni pizza otherwise his teammates would be forced to do extra drills and his own status on the team could be compromised, Gilbert said.
“Everyone on the team knows this child will not eat pork,” Gilbert told Cleveland ABC station WEWS on Tuesday.
The student eats only meat or poultry that has been certified kosher. “To say the coach used poor judgment would be an understatement,” Gilbert said. “This was humiliating for this child.”
School Superintendent Jeff Talbert said Wednesday that the district completed an internal investigation and found that the coaches on May 24 “engaged in actions that constituted inappropriate, demeaning and divisive behavior in a misguided attempt to instill discipline in the student-athletes.”
The Canton City Police Department is investigating whether criminal hazing charges should be filed against all eight McKinley football coaches, The Canton Repository reported.
The incident was reported in newspapers around the world. The teen player was a prominent athlete who has been offered several scholarships to play football in college, although being just a junior, the Jerusalem Post reported. A lawyer representing the family said they might consider filing a First Amendment lawsuit against the school district, Jerusalem Post reported.
The Black Hebrew movement was founded in the 19th century by Frank Cherry and William Saunders Crowdy. They taught that Adam, Eve and Jesus were all Black and that Black Americans had lost their Hebrew identities during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They believed that Black people were the true heirs of the lost tribes of Israel and that Jews of European descent were children of interracial marriages between Black Israelites and white Christians.
Like the traditional Judeo-Christian and Muslim faiths, there are various denominations of Black Hebrew Israelites today with varying beliefs.
“One thing we all have in common is that we believe the Scriptures are about Black folk, not the current people in Israel — specifically, those who were products of the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” said Crystal Heard, a practicing Messianic Black Hebrew, in an interview with The Moguldom Nation.
Photo: Screengrab from WKYC Channel 3 YouTube video
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