At the center of an investigation that has captured much of Northeast Ohio, former Canton McKinley head football coach Marcus Wattley has decided to speak out after the Canton City School Board fired him as the Bulldogs head coach.
“This would’ve been 20 years where I’ve coached football and at different levels this entire time I’ve never had a complaint filed against me of my treatment of players before,” said Wattley.
Wattley and six of his assistant coaches were relieved of their duties at a recent board of education meeting after it’s alleged the coach forced a 17-year-old player to eat a pepperoni pizza as a punishment for missing a voluntary practice.
The player, a standout junior on the football team, is of Hebrew Israeli and eating pork goes against his religion. Ed Gilbert, the player’s attorney, says the athlete told his coaching staff multiple times he does not eat pork because of his religion.
Peter Pattakos, Wattley’s attorney, said that the player was offered chicken nuggets but continued to eat the pizza.
Pattakos is also calling into question the recent silence from the player’s attorney.
“One question that I have and that I hope you have is where is Ed Gilbert? Where is Ed Gilbert? You lit a match in the forest and now there’s this forest fire and you walked away,” he said. “We’ve been at every public meeting there’s been trying to talk to anyone who will talk to us and learn what really happened. Ed Gilbert’s hiding.”
The whole incident was caught on camera but Wattley’s attorney says there was no audio.
“We know what happened on that surveillance video. There’s no audio of that video. If there were, there’s no way we would even be here today because everybody would see what happened,” Pattakos said. “It wouldn’t have been able to been misinterpreted. Because it would’ve been clear. It would’ve heard Coach Wattley saying you’re free to leave at any time. The district had no evidence.”
On behalf of Wattley, Pattakos said the investigation including interviews with three players who agree with Wattley’s defense.
“All of whom, as far as we understand it, said the same exact thing that Mr. Wattley,” he said.
Wattley said he got into coaching because of his football coach acted as a father figure to him. He says he wanted to be that same kind of coach.
“I love every player that I’ve ever coached. I love this young man the same. Everything I do has the kids in mind and trying to get them to see their potentials,” Wattley said. “It makes me sad every day I don’t get to see my guys, my coaches. The most devastating part about all this honestly is seeing my dads last name, who died when I was two years old, seeing what’s been said about it.”
Tyler Thatcher, one of the assistant coaches also relieved of their duties, says he and his fellow coaches go above and beyond to make sure the kids feel safe.
“I don’t think everybody understands the things that we do. A lot of us see the end result on Friday nights. But you don’t see the phone calls we get from a kid at two in the morning,” Thatcher said. “You don’t see the conversations that we have with a young man. You don’t see the things we go through, especially for these older coaches.”
He went on to say that since he’s only 22 without his own children, coaching is the highlight of his life.
“I don’t have the things that these other coaches have so that makes me as a younger coach grateful for the things that I have because these guys spend countless hours, days, months away from their kids at home, away from their families, away from their extended families, to be with somebody else’s kids and to be honest with you, that’s the biggest thing that affects me,” he said. “All I want to do is be with these kids. I don’t care about anything else.”