BOBBY BOWDEN: I’m Proud To Take A Knee With Coach Kennedy

Bobby Bowden | Head coach of the Florida State University football team from 1976-2009

I spent more than half a century coaching football. You don’t invest that much time in one profession without learning some valuable lessons. In football and in life the lessons we learn through adversity rather than success, while painful, are often the most meaningful.

Right now there is a man in Bremerton, Washington who is demonstrating by example how perseverance and courage through adversity can have far reaching impacts beyond the limits of our personal influence. I’ve never met Coach Joe Kennedy, but when I heard his story it resonated deeply with me. Perhaps it did so because his story includes three subjects I love – faith, football, and freedom.

Coach Kennedy served our country as a U.S. Marine defending our freedom for twenty years before going into coaching. He made a promise to God that if he was blessed with the opportunity to coach football he would always take a moment at the end of each game to kneel in silent prayer at midfield in gratitude for the effort and safety of his players and their opponents. He did so without incident until the school district forced an untenable choice upon him – stop praying or stop coaching. In a country founded on religious liberty, no one should ever have to make such a choice. Coach Kennedy took a knee, took a stand, and lost the job he loved.

Like any good Marine, Kennedy has refused to give up the fight. He took his case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against him; now he’s taking his case to the Supreme Court of the United States. Coach Kennedy knows about battlefields and football fields, but not a lot about courtrooms, so I’ve decided to stand with him. I’ve added my name to a “friend of the court” brief urging the Court to take his case and reverse the injustice done to him.

No coach in this country should have to set down their faith when they pick up their whistle.

With all the analytics of modern sports, there are statistics for everything—from the big picture numbers of conference titles and national championships down to the minutest details. I’m sure someone knows exactly how many players and coaches came and went through my programs over the course of my career. I don’t.

I do know that all those players and coaches made an impact on me and contributed to the type of coach I was then and the man I am now. I’d like to think that on my better days I made an impression on them as well. My hope is they knew I cared far more about the type of men they would become than how many touchdowns they scored or championships they won.

Football is a great game. Those of us lucky enough to coach know what a blessing it is to have the opportunity to improve the lives of others by teaching. When we do it well, we teach far more than blocking, tackling, and other skills necessary for success on the field. We teach commitment to a purpose higher than self, tenacity in the face of adversity, and other skills necessary for success in life. By his actions, Coach Kennedy has taught his players and the rest of us that the great “wins” in life don’t happen on the football field or in the courtroom.

I don’t know if Joe Kennedy will ever get to coach again. For his sake, and the sake of our Constitution, I hope so. We need leaders with integrity on the field, in the classroom, in our communities and our government. I’m happy to place my name next to his in front of the Supreme Court. No matter what their decision is, in my book, Coach Kennedy is winning where it counts.

Bobby Bowden was head coach of the Florida State University football team from 1976-2009. He led the Seminoles to two national championships.


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