General magazine banner

'Praying coach' Joe Kennedy returns to sidelines: 'God stood by me the whole time'

After seven long years and a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, high school football assistant coach and former Marine Joe Kennedy was back on the sidelines Friday night for the first time since 2015. The 54-year-old celebrated Bremerton (Washington) High School’s 27-12 victory over Mount Douglas Secondary School by continuing his postgame ritual of kneeling on the 50-yard line to pray.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Kennedy began coaching at Bremerton in 2008 and was inspired to start thanking God in prayer after games on the field after watching the movie “Facing the Giants.” Over time, players started joining Kennedy to pray, and he began leading prayers in the locker room before games.

“You don’t get answers from God like that very often. But man, He came down, smacked me in the gut,” Kennedy said in an October 2022 interview with Kirk Cameron. “I was on my knees, bawling my eyes out and I’m like, ‘I’m in. I will give You the glory after every game, win or lose right there on the battlefield.’”

In the fall of 2015, the school district was notified that Kennedy was leading players in prayer and asked him not to participate in religious activities with students. He complied and prayed while Bremerton’s players were otherwise occupied, but was joined by fans and opposing players at the team’s homecoming game.

The district warned Kennedy that his prayers could be perceived as school endorsement of religion, but he prayed on the field at the next two games. He was then placed on leave, and his contract was not renewed.

The Supreme Court sided with Kennedy in June 2022, paving the way for him to return to coaching.

“It was just simply amazing to see how many people came out and just really cheered it on and supported us,” he told FOX News about Friday’s experience. “I wish I had better words. It was simply amazing.”

During his conversation with Cameron, Kennedy was asked if there was anything he wished he’d done differently. Kennedy said his main regret was that he felt like he could have done a better job communicating his intentions with the district.

“I think we just got our wires crossed. … I would have loved to have just clarified: ‘I don’t want any of this,'” he said. “‘I want to just be able to walk out there after a game, shake hands with the team, shake hands with the other coaches, take a knee for 15 seconds and walk off.'”

Reflecting on his long road back to coaching, Kennedy expressed gratitude to God and everyone who offered support.

“It has been a long time, and it seems weird that it is actually over,” he told Cameron. “But the best part of it is knowing God stood by me the whole time.”

Kennedy has written a book about his experience called “Average Joe” that will be released Oct. 24. He has not decided whether he will continue coaching and is considering going into ministry.

Whatever he decides, Kennedy will move forward confident that he was obedient to God’s calling.

“I finished the race,” he told Christian Broadcasting Network, “and I hope that God is kind of looking and smiling. And He’s proud that I did what He’s called me to do.”

RELATED STORIES:
Cade Klubnik enters season amid hype as Clemson QB, thankful for ‘incredible God’
Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins seeks God’s glory as he prepares for 12th NFL season
Caleb Farley loses father in house explosion: ‘He raised me to be a stand-up guy’
John Harbaugh enters 16th season as Ravens coach: ‘Success is alignment with God’
MAGAZINE: From Cut To Clutch — N.Y. Giants Receiver Isaiah Hodgins