‘Fat’ NJ HS football coach embarrassed player in front of teammates, lawsuit says

The parents of a clinically obese high school student in Ocean County have filed a lawsuit against the district where the student played football, alleging that an assistant coach repeatedly shamed and harassed him about his weight.

“Look how fat you got,” Lacey Township High School’s assistant football coach allegedly told the student at the start of a 2021 practice, according to a lawsuit filed in June. “Look at you. Lose weight,” the trainer allegedly said.

A year earlier, the assistant coach made similar comments to the student when he and other players stepped on a scale across from each other, according to the lawsuit filed in Ocean County Superior Court.

The student has been diagnosed by doctors as clinically obese. He also suffers from a digestive medical condition and anxiety, according to court documents.

The lawsuit states that the student’s anxiety worsened when he realized he might not be able to take as many bathroom breaks as he needed to. The coach accused the players of using an excuse in the bathroom to avoid running laps, the suit says.

On Aug. 12, 2021, the student’s mother spoke with another assistant coach and told her that her son “had been working hard to manage his weight” but that the medications he was taking made it difficult to diet, the lawsuit says.

The suit claims that despite his mother’s efforts to explain her son’s medical issues to the coaches, the same assistant coach kept calling him “fat.”

In September 2021, the student was hospitalized with COVID-19 and transferred to the intensive care unit at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, according to the lawsuit. When he was released from the hospital and returned to soccer practice, the coach put his weight back on him.

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“Man, you got fat. What have you been doing?” the trainer allegedly said, according to the lawsuit. “You need to lose weight.”

The lawsuit states that the student’s mother complained to school administrators about the assistant coach, but nothing was done, despite promises that he would be removed from the playing field and locker room.

Lacey Schools Superintendent Vanessa P. Clark did not respond this week to requests for comment on the lawsuit. Board of Education President Frank Palino did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges violations of anti-discrimination laws and asserts that the district’s “senior management and administrative staff were aware of the egregious and ongoing harassment and retaliation.”

The suit seeks an injunction requiring all Lacey Township athletic trainers to undergo bullying and harassment training, and asks a judge to award money damages.

Antonio G. Attrino can be reached [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAtrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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