If it weren’t for the Joe Kennedys of the coaching world I wouldn’t have become the man I am today, played for the Seahawks, and certainly would not have made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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GROWING up, my family life was challenging and in many respects was certainly less than desirable.

I did not have a positive male role model during my formative years and I recall nights when my mother would come to me seeking safety. The challenges at home often carried over into daily life as a student, particularly during high school.

Without a doubt, football became a refuge. Several coaches became examples to me regarding how a man should honorably conduct himself in life. It was on the athletic field where these male role models set the examples that ultimately provided me the very basis of how a man should grow up and become a loving and genuine father to his own children. Coaches provided me the firm but caring support that increasing numbers of our youths need today but often don’t receive.

The youths of Bremerton are no exception. Athletes on the Bremerton High School football team attend class and practice, working toward graduation, but often the needs of these young men extend far beyond the gridiron. Some must also work to help support their families and face numerous other challenges that many adults will never understand. In the face of difficult circumstances, Bremerton this season made the playoffs for just the third time since 1994. For overcoming significant life challenges while achieving success on the football field, I applaud these young men.

I also applaud coaches like Joe Kennedy.

Steve Largent is a former player for the Seattle Seahawks and a former member of Congress.
Steve Largent is a former player for the Seattle Seahawks and a former member of Congress.

He is the kind of man who not only cares about his players because that’s what coaches are supposed to do, but because he has seen tough times as a teenager in Bremerton himself. He celebrates and loves his players the way we would hope all coaches do, but far exceeds that standard.

That is why I am troubled that Kennedy is banned from working with those young men because he is exactly the kind of coach I once so desperately needed and these young men need today.

Going further, I am troubled that Kennedy is suspended from duty because he made the decision to pray.

When I learned of Kennedy’s suspension, I was baffled. We have a coach that seven years ago knelt down after the game and quietly thanked his Creator for the safety of his players. It was not mandatory; in fact no one was invited to pray with him. Soon players of no faith and different faiths asked to join him as they walked off the field, to which he would reply, “It’s a free country.”

And that is exactly the point: This is a free country. This is different from a pregame locker-room prayer where attendance is mandatory. This is different from a coach proselytizing and requiring faith of a player. This is a model of a man that should be celebrated by the school district rather than told to hide who he is and what he believes. Is this really what public education is in Washington and the rest of the country?

Employees of local, state and federal entities — including school districts — suffer no additional restriction because of their faiths. School faculty members do not have to run and hide every time the issue of faith arises. Jews should not have to remove yarmulkes; Muslims should not have to hide their prayer rugs; Christians should not have to hide their crosses.

If it weren’t for the Joe Kennedys of the coaching world, I wouldn’t have become the man I am today, played for the Seahawks, and certainly would not have made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The young men on the Bremerton High football team need their coach back. The Bremerton School District should immediately reinstate their coach and role model.

That’s my prayer.