Football Coach Fired for Praying on Field Expected Back for 2023 Season

KOMO - August 21, 2023 6:42 am

FILE - Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after his team lost to Centralia in Bremerton, Wash., Oct. 16, 2015. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times via AP, File)

The new football season for Bremerton High School starts with a former coach reinstated for the 2023 football season. Coach Joe Kennedy won his legal battle to get back to coaching after leaving the school district eight years ago. Kennedy was known for taking a knee at the 50-yard line after games.

I’m a little nervous, to tell you the truth, and it’s more just because first game is coming up and it’s been… I got to get… knock the rust off. It’s been awhile,” Kennedy said in an exclusive interview with KOMO News on Wednesday. “I know Sept. 1 (the team’s first game of the season) is what I’ve asked for to be able to be a coach and be able to take a knee after the game. Thankful for it. That’s all I ever asked for. Anything beyond that, it’s just gonna be gravy.

Kennedy lost his job, his legal team filed suit against the Bremerton School District and after years in multiple courtrooms, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Kennedy, ruling that his First Amendment rights were violated by the district and that the district needed to reinstate him.

The Bremerton School Board settled with Kennedy’s attorneys on their fees at $1,775,000.

An exclusive interview with praying Bremerton football coach Joe Kennedy on Aug. 16, 2023. (KOMO News)

While Kennedy has enjoyed support in the Bremerton area over the past eight years, there are some who believe the court’s ruling violates the separation of church and state. Kennedy told KOMO he’s been getting calls and messages from supporters that they’re planning to attend that first game on September 1.

So, has the district given him any restrictions?

“I don’t have any guidance on that yet,” he said. “They’re still trying to figure that out. I know that I’m allowed to pray after a football game, and that’s what I intend to do.”

The school district told KOMO News the guidance is already set out, not just for Kennedy but for every employee of the district. The district told KOMO it will “treat Mr. Kennedy’s personal religious conduct the same way the district treats all other personal conduct by coaches at football games.” Bremerton School District Policy outlines how and when coaches and other supervisors may engage in personal conduct (such as prayer) while on duty.

KOMO also asked Kennedy if it was necessary for a knee. Could he just bow his head to pray?

“I could, but my commitment was, you know, that’s the way I’ve always done it,” he said. “When I said I was going to give God the glory after every game, win or lose, on the football field.”

FILE – Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash., poses for a photo March 9, 2022, at the school’s football field. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

That’s my tradition; that’s what I’ll do. I’ll be just as good, really makes no difference. God doesn’t care, but I want to be thankful. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand after the game. I might be a little emotional about it and taking a knee might be a good thing.

The school district reinstated Kennedy as an assistant football coach, telling KOMO News that the position earns a stipend of $5,304. Kennedy’s attorney told KOMO News that the fight was all about exercising his right to pray at the 50-yard line without risking his job.

KOMO News reached out to Kennedy to talk to him about making his return to Bremerton and is still waiting to hear back from him.

Even though KOMO talked with Kennedy minutes before the first practice of the season, we still asked him how the team looks this season.

‘”It looks pretty good,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got some returning guys. I’ve kept up every single year and just about every single game. It was pretty good last year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to just continue on with that, add some more growth.”

When asked about his role this season, Kennedy said he had just learned that answer from coach Paul Theriault, known as Coach T.

FILE – Bremerton High assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, front, walks off the field with his lawyer, right, Oct. 16, 2015, after praying at the 50-yard line following a football game in Bremerton, Wash. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times via AP, File)

“I’ll be working with the running backs, so obviously Friday nights (are) going to be varsity, Monday’s going to be junior varsity and I hope I play a role in both of those because leadership and team building and discipline is across the board,” Kennedy said.

So, does that mean he’ll come back next season? What’s his plan?

“That was a blessing and a curse — that’s why I stayed eight years the first time,” he said. “Every year I had another kid say, ‘Coach, you got to stay for my senior year, just one more year,’ and I’m not making any promises.”

Kennedy’s new book, “Average Joe: The Coach Joe Kennedy Story,” doesn’t include that part of the story just yet. The book covers his troubled childhood, faith in God, love for his family, what he learned in the Marines and how he works to instill those lessons in the players he coaches. It’s not out yet but available for preorder.

 

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