Coaches file defamation lawsuit in Ohio athlete pork case

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Canton McKinley High School football coach Marcus Wattley and six other coaches at the school were ousted after a football player said he was forced him to eat pork in violation of his religious beliefs for missing a voluntary workout. Photo / The Canton Repository via AP / File

ALEX KRUTCHIK , CLEVELAND JEWISH NEWS

Former Canton McKinley Senior High School head football coach Marcus Wattley and five of his former assistant coaches are suing nine people they say have damaged their reputations in the fallout of an incident that happened a few months ago.

The Canton City School District voted not to renew the coaches’ contracts on June 3 after they allegedly forced a football player to eat pork against his religion in May.

Peter Pattakos of Peter Pattakos Law Firm in Fairlawn, the attorney representing Wattley, is also representing Frank McLeod, Zachary Sweat, Romero Harris, Cade Brodie, and Tyler Thatcher.

Pattakos filed a 68-page complaint in Stark County Common Pleas Court on July 12 outlining the situation and their next course of action. According to the document, Pattakos and his clients are seeking compensation for “the damage caused by the defendants’ false, malicious, and extremely defamatory statements that were intentionally calculated to smear Plaintiffs’ stellar reputation and oust them from the leadership of the McKinley football program.

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The defendants, according to the document, are Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Talbert; all Canton City school board members John Rinaldi, Scott Russ, Kim Brown, David Kaminski, and Eric Resnick; as well as the player’s father, Kenny Walker; the family’s attorney Edward Gilbert; and former assistant coach Josh Grimsley.

In the document, Pattakos claims there was malicious intent behind Grimsley’s reporting of this incident to the school district. According to the document, Grimsley called the player’s father after the incident despite not trying to intervene and stop the incident from happening. Pattakos said in the document Grimsley was disgruntled after having been passed over for the head coaching job in 2019, which was eventually awarded to Wattley. In the complaint, Pattakos accused Grimsley of defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy.

He also accused the other eight defendants of defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy for several reasons. One of those reasons Pattakos noted is the fact that the district did not speak with the unnamed player, who is a 17-year old rising senior, prior to terminating the coaches.

Pattakos said the plaintiffs’ personal and professional reputations were destroyed, and have suffered economic damages in the form of lost wages and earning capacity, as well as mental distress, pain, and anguish.