Coach Joe Kennedy on his return to football and faith on the field: ‘America is alive and well’
Coach Joe Kennedy returned to the high school football field on Friday, September 1, in Bremerton, Washington, after a years-long battle involving prayer, personal expression and the Constitution that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an on-camera interview with Fox News Digital on Saturday morning, he revealed among other things that since yesterday, he hasn’t stopped smiling about how things turned out.
“It was so amazing. I haven’t processed all of it,” he said of his return to the game (and yes, his team won on Friday).
“Everything was an answered prayer. There was a perfect amount of people that showed up. The weather was perfect. The opposing team was tough. The fans were incredible. My team played spectacularly. I couldn’t have asked for a better return. I — I’m just so thankful in every way, shape and form. It was amazing.”
In 2015, Kennedy lost his job as an assistant high school football coach. The district fired him because of his personal practice of saying a silent prayer on the 50-yard line after games — which turned into a professional, cultural and constitutional battle.
He fought to get his job back for many years.
On June 27, 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Coach Kennedy and his First Amendment right — and on March 8, 2023, Kennedy was officially reinstated as assistant coach.
True to his promise ahead of Friday’s game, he again took a knee — doing so by himself on his first day back — and gave thanks to God after the game for being back on the field and having the constitutional right to practice his faith.
“I had a whole bunch of the team there,” he told Fox News Digital of Friday. And “there were about a dozen kids on the team that had crosses painted on their faces. And … you know, I’m still processing everything. So that was really cool to see them making a visual stand themselves,” he told Fox News Digital.
He added, “A lot of them wanted to join me in prayer [on Friday], but it was one of those really fine lines that I didn’t want to cross with the school on my first day back … I just wanted to do it by myself.”
And so, “I had a bunch of my old players [there]. I saw a bunch of parents that I haven’t seen in a long time. It was just simply amazing to see how many people came out and just really cheered us on and supported us.”
He added, “I wish I had better words … There were so many who were on our side. [After] one of the kids scored one of the touchdowns, he said, ‘Coach, that was for you. Welcome back.’”
And “I mean, that just absolutely melted my heart,” said Kennedy.
“I was like, ‘This is why I coach. This is the reason.’ And anything and everything else faded at that exact moment — to see the smile on that kid’s face after scoring three touchdowns. I’m so proud of him.”
Kennedy is a 20-year Marine veteran.
Before he ever coached his first game, he made a commitment to God that he would give thanks at the end of each game for what the players had accomplished — and for the chance to be part of their lives through football.
But that was met with disapproval from his school district — and wound up as a lengthy court battle that was finally resolved by the highest court in the land.
Fox News Digital asked Kennedy about his past, his present and his future — including his upcoming new book in October, “Average Joe.”
Here are more details from his on-camera interview with Fox News Digital on Saturday.
“My wife and I decided we really wanted to tell our story and tell it right. There were so many headlines in the news and, you know, clickbait — and there’s all these things that [didn’t] really [add up]. A lot of times, they try to tell a story instead of the whole entire picture.”
And “both sides have gotten it right — and some of them have gotten it wrong. People make their snap decisions based on something they heard or read — or [they] saw a post on Facebook or a tweet. And we wanted to be able to tell our story. And I wanted to share with everybody that this wasn’t easy.”
He added, “My life wasn’t easy — everything that led up to the moment where I did what I did, why I did it. And I think it’s a great and inspiring story — and, you know, love story. Marines aren’t known for being lovey, huggy, touchy-feely kind of people.”
But “growing up, I didn’t have love. I was a very angry kid. And if I could find love in my country and in my family with my wife and my kids and for my relationship with God — just everything has worked out perfectly in my life, even though it felt like a complete train wreck most days and most years all the way up to it.”
So, “if people read the book, I hope they’re inspired that one person can make a difference. You know, if that schmuck can do it — imagine what everybody else can do” (laughing).
“And I think it’s a perfect time in American history,” added Coach Kennedy, “that we actually need to get on a different path than we’re on. It’s been so divided our country. It’s become very ugly.”
And “I want people to stand up together and understand that we are all the same. There is no special rights for a certain class or a certain group. Everybody is the same.”
“The Constitution applies to everybody across the board, and I hope this inspires people to be able to stand up and join together and find something to be proud of and fight for something worthwhile.”
“When everything first started happening, I was questioning: ‘God, why are we doing this? What purpose is this [serving]?’ I assumed I had the perfect life compared to my past. This was the life I wanted. I was doing what I loved.”
And “I got to be out there helping young men become better men. I got to be part of their lives. And all of a sudden that was all taken away and it just crushed me.”
Yet “I was made with a fighting spirit and not [meant] to give up. And that’s what I’ve always told my players, that you fight the good fight no matter what, and you have to be able to finish it.”
And “I finished the race and I remain faithful. And that’s what I’ve always told my guys to do. And I actually got to fulfill that. A lot of people talk about what they’re going to do and yet never come to fruition on it. But I have finished the race. We did it. We did exactly what we set out to do.”
The “only thing I asked for was to be a coach and to be able to pray after a football game. And both of those were given back to us. We’ve been totally restored.”
Now, “eight years later … I mean, look at me. I look like an old catcher’s mitt … I have not aged well. My family — I put them through hell for eight years. But last night we had our whole family [there]. We had our kids and grandkids. We had everybody — everybody from our community was there and we forgot about all the pain. We forgot about all the hardships that we had.”
And “we haven’t stopped smiling since last night.”
He added that when he and his wife went to bed on Friday night, “we just couldn’t stop smiling.”
And “we still can’t stop smiling because we did it. We did it. We finished and we finished well.”
“A lot of people thought it was the Christian in me” that made all of this happen.
“And if you know me — I am not a good Christian. I’m actually one of the worst ones out there. And this was really about me trying to love God and love others and also our country by serving in the military and being a Marine — that we really take pride in our rights as Americans.”
Kennedy added, “We have always supported and defended that, even if it’s something ridiculous. You know, [Colin] Kaepernick taking a knee in protest for social injustices. You see people having protests against this and that. And, you know, I’ve had people cuss me out and then my family and everything else.”
However, “the same rights apply,” he said. “It applies to people of all faiths. It doesn’t matter if you have faith or not. The First Amendment and the Bill of Rights — they apply to everybody across the board equally.”
“This just proves that America is still alive and well and the law does actually give us these rights — and we can express them the way that we want to without feeling like we would be persecuted for it.”
No person, he added, should have to face “losing their job or having to choose between their faith and their job. No American should ever have to deal with this. And this closed it up — and last night was a perfect example of proving that.”
And “nobody got hurt. Nobody exploded when a guy took a knee [on the field]. And it was awesome. It was just the perfect night to show that, hey, the First Amendment applies to everybody equally.”
And “if I could do this, imagine what we could all do together.”
Coach Kennedy hinted at what may still lie ahead for him. It may involve some type of ministry — but he is taking a bit of time to think it through and said he’ll share the news with Fox News Digital once he’s reached a decision.
He also said he’ll be at football practice this coming Monday — and that he’s praying about what his future may hold.
“We’re going to spend [some time] in prayer and in talking as a family.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Fox News Digital’s original interview with Coach Joe Kennedy, coming up shortly.