We expect the coaches of our high school athletes to instill certain qualities in their young athletes. They are to teach their players how to be successful on and off the field. They are to teach sportsmanship and humility. They are to instruct players to have faith in themselves and something bigger than themselves – the team. They help their athletes to learn how to overcome adversity, how to win with grace, how to be thankful for their time in a sport. The list goes on and on.
Joe Kennedy, a beloved football coach in Bremerton, Wash., was extremely good at teaching these lessons, as the Bremerton School District itself has determined on a number of occasions. The assistant football coach was hired in 2008 and received years of stellar reviews and accolades for his character building with the team. In 2009, he was praised for his “enthusiasm and positive attitude.” In 2013, he was noted for doing an “excellent job of mentoring players and building character in them.”
However, Kennedy’s review in 2015 says “Do not rehire.”
Read that again. Kennedy has been praised for his positive attitude and his ability to build character in his players, yet he will not be rehired for the 2016.
You see, Kennedy, a Christian, was suspended from coaching on Oct. 28 for going to the 50-yard line and silently saying a prayer after games. No doubt thanking God for the health of his players and myriad other things such as the ability to be part of the game, for his family.
Kennedy did not make a public spectacle of his prayers. He did not ask or force ANY athletes to be a part of his prayer. He did not speak his prayer aloud. He simply stood at midfield and utter a few thanks to his savior.
Players from both his team and the teams they played began joining him. They did so of their own accord. Again, Kennedy never invited the players to join him nor did he ask the team to circle up and bow their heads.
“Mr. Kennedy failed to follow district policy and his actions demonstrated a lack of cooperation with administration,” the postseason review alleged. “The subsequent situations contributed to negative relations between parents, students, community members, coaches and the school district.”
The review even alleged that Kennedy failed to supervise students after football games “due to his interactions with media and community.”
Kennedy was devastated,
“It was like a knife in the heart,” he told Fox News. “They don’t want me to coach anymore.”
Kennedy has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school district. He will be represented by Michael Berry, an attorney for the Liberty Institute.
Berry claims the decision to not rehire Kennedy was an act of retaliation by the school.
“We provided copies of previous reviews which are all glowing,” Berry told Fox News. “They talk about what a wonderful coach he is. It’s like getting straight A’s and then getting an F. Obviously, there is something more to this.”
Liberty Institute said the school is guilty of three separate acts of discrimination — the first being the policy banning Kennedy from his postgame prayers. They also took issue with the suspension of the coach as well as the negative performance review.
Kennedy began the postgame prayers when he was hired in 2008. He had been inspired to do so after watching the faith-based film, “Facing the Giants.”
The school not only banned the coach from praying, it went so far as to ban him from taking part in student-led prayers. It also ordered him to avoid kneeling or bowing his head during student-led religious activities.
Yet another assistant coach on the team wandered out toward the same area Kennedy said his silent prayers and chanted to Buddha. He was not reprimanded in any way. Nor did he lose his job.
The Bremerton School District is hypocritical in a couple of ways here.
First, you can’t fire one coach for saying a prayer if you don’t fire another for doing the same thing. This is clearly discrimination against the Christian coach while also pandering to a minority. My guess is the school district is more afraid of the repercussions of a minority in a minority religion causing all kinds of trouble while knowing it can get away with punishing the non-minority because public sentiment always goes the way of the minority in these situations.
Second, the very same people who praised Kennedy for using the values his religion instilled in him to help him teach the boys under his tutelage the very same values, fired him for practicing the values they expected him to teach.
It makes absolutely no sense. You can’t ask a coach to deliver in certain areas and praise him for delivering above and beyond what you asked, then punish him for living the lessons he was teaching.
The Bremerton School District clearly is guilty of discrimination, hypocrisy, as well.
People using the separation of church and state argument are off base here by a wide margin. They are also trampling upon Kennedy’s right ot freedom of religion. The separation of church and state is about the government not forcing a religion upon the people nor endorsing one over another. It has nothing to do with a coach saying a silent prayer on a football field. By not allowing Kennedy his prayer, his freedom of religion is taken away.
For its part, a good portion of the Bremerton community supports Kennedy. A Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/supportcoachkennedy/ has been set up. Professional and college football players across the country have also voiced their support.