Winning not always everything

Life as MLS team chaplain is one of many hats

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As the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy face off to see who gets to hoist this year’s MLS Cup on Dec. 1, Brad Kenney will be taking a trip down memory lane.

The pastor of care at Cherry Hills Community Church won’t have to walk far, though. Two years ago, Kenney, who has served as team chaplain for the Colorado Rapids since 2002, got to do that very same thing.

“The championship was sort of a celebratory high that a chaplain might get to experience or might not,” he said, describing what it was like to be on the sidelines of Major League Soccer’s biggest stage as the Rapids scored the biggest win in franchise history. “Those were special times, they even got me a ring that says ‘Rev’ on it.”

But as Kenney points out, rings tarnish, memories fade, and someone wins the cup every year. What will never fade, he said, is the feeling he gets when he helps transform or change a life.

“That’s what’s most special to me,” he said. “I’ve had players that have sent me text messages saying, ‘I want to kill myself,’ guys deal with difficulty from getting cut from the team or not getting playing time to ‘how do I get used to parenthood?’ or ‘how do I deal with a relationship when I am four time zones away?’”

Kenney said he’s been referred to as a “team shrink” by some. He’s given premarital counseling, been in weddings and conducted weddings for players. He’s helped players move, sat through eight-hour-long surgeries and given career advice.

“I’m really there to support guys in whatever they go through,” he said. “Some guys just need a listening ear. Some guys have questions about their faith and I talk with them through those things, regardless of their faith community. The life of a pro athlete is not as glamorous as it appears, especially in soccer.”

Kenney, who travels with the team on a minimal basis, puts in about 15-20 hours a week with the organization. He considers himself “chaplain for life” but has seen his role inside the locker room change over time.

“When I first began,” he said, “it was the desire of the coach to gather all the players who were dressing, for the chaplain to come in and say a prayer. For some guys that weren’t Christian that was tough to swallow, they didn’t like it. You had atheists and agnostics in the group and I think they probably felt ‘religion is being forced on me and it’s the coach’s preference.’ You realize that can be a difficult space.

“Another coach came in and he didn’t want any religion in the locker room, so I was just present. If they wanted a blessing I would be there. Today we actually host a bilingual prayer time, but it’s all completely voluntary. One of the coolest things right now is that we have players from all over the world from different faiths.”