(1-2-22) Canton City School District Superintendent Jeff Talbert released a video in June of 2021 to address concerns regarding an incident where a kosher student was allegedly forced to eat pepperoni pizza for not attending a weight class as part of the Canton McKinley football program. The player is a practicing Hebrew Israelite, a religion that bans the consumption of pork.

The Canton McKinley player and his parents have filed a federal civil rights suit this past week seeking financial compensation in damages and alleging violations of his religious freedom and constitutional rights.

Canton City School District Superintendent Jeff Talbert

“On May 24th, 2021, a star football player for the Canton McKinley Bulldogs was subject to a horrible incident of being forced to eat the residue of a pork pepperoni pizza in violation of his religious beliefs. The penalty for refusing to eat the pizza was possible removal from the football team. All coaches involved have been terminated from the Canton School District. The central facts in this case are undisputed. The family has been in intense settlement discussions with the Canton School District. These discussions resulted in a resolution. However, the District’s insurance company has reneged on the settlement thereby forcing the family to move forward with litigation. The effected child has been forced to leave the District due to threats from his teammates and members of the Canton community. The child is mentally devastated.”

Attorney Peter Pattakos, who represents several of the former coaches:

“When this story first broke last spring we immediately came forward with evidence — including statements from more than a dozen eyewitnesses — showing that the wild accusations that the coaches forced K.W. to eat pizza against his religionwere false and defamatory. After Ed Gilbert, his clients, and the district officials who wrongly terminated the coaches refused to retract their false statements and reinstate these excellent coaches, we sued them for defamation in a case that has been pending in Stark County in July. With their efforts to extort a settlement from the district having failed, Ed Gilbert and his clients had little choice but to file this pathetic lawsuit as a defense against the coaches’ defamation claims against them.

We look forward to further exposing the truth about this matter in court and anyone interested in the same is free to review a copy of our 67-page complaint, which, unlike Gilbert’s frivolous 13-page lawsuit, sets forth the truth in great and well-documented detail.”