Coach Fired for Praying Says Being Sidelined 'Hardest Thing I've Been Through'
After being fired for praying with his players during high school football games, Joe Kennedy is continuing his fight to be reinstated as Bremerton High School's assistant football coach.
In an interview with The Daily Signal he called sitting in the bleachers for that first game after he was sidelined "the hardest thing" he'd ever been through.
Still, he says that for the chance to impact the lives of his players, he would go through it all over again.
"It's not the X's and O's and winning football games," he said. "It's watching these guys overcoming the things that they go through in life and emerging as a stronger person because of it and knowing that you get them for such a strong time in their life and getting to be part of it."
"That's a blessing," he added. "That's what God called me to do."
The tradition of praying started in 2008. At first, Kennedy said they were silent prayers. The tradition slowly grew as several of his players got involved -- and then even the other teams started participating.
"Even our most bitter rivals were out there with us, which was really amazing," Kennedy said. "I just lift up both helmets - ours and opposing teams - and I'd just say, 'I'd like to lift these guys up for what they just did. They battled for 48 minutes and what started as a war we can all leave off as friends.'"
Some of Kennedy's former players told The Daily Signal that the prayers really impacted them, not because of any religious connotations, but because they brought everyone together.
"I didn't view it as a prayer at all," former Bremerton quarterback Connor Mahoney said. "He didn't say like anything under God or anything involving religion. He just kind of gave us a post-game speech."
"(It was) just magical because it brought everybody, even the other teams back together as just people and it was awesome. This is what a part of a team is about. At the end of the game just come together," added former running back Cody Whaley.
But the Bremerton School District viewed the matter differently.
"Kennedy's conduct poses a genuine risk that the district will be liable for violating the federal and state constitutional rights of students or others," the school district said in a statement to The Daily Signal.
Kennedy said he never forced his faith on anyone and participation was never required.
The Liberty Institute is representing Kennedy and they've filed an EEOC action against the Bremerton School District for religious discrimination. Kennedy said his end goal is simply to be the coach again.