Should Post-Touchdown Prayers Be Considered ‘Excessive Celebrations’? February 7, 2011

Should Post-Touchdown Prayers Be Considered ‘Excessive Celebrations’?

Here’s an interesting question from yesterday’s Super Bowl:

When the Green Bay Packers’ Nick Collins intercepted the ball and scored a (pretty exciting) touchdown, he got on his knees, threw his hands in the air, and got penalized for it.

It was “excessive celebration.” Specifically, the refs said Collins “[went] to the ground after the score.”

Ok, fine.

Now, cut to later in the game. The Packers’ Greg Jennings caught a touchdown pass and also went to the ground after the score. The only difference is that he was (clearly) saying a prayer.

No penalty was called. Maybe that’s a good thing — can you imagine the headlines if Jennings was penalized for praying? The Christina Aguilera National Anthem flub would be irrelevant compared to that.

Slate’s Tom Scocca isn’t sure what the rule is regarding “excessive celebration”:

Maybe the issue isn’t defensive versus offensive [scoring], but secular kneeling versus religious kneeling.

When I wrote about this issue a couple years ago, the National Football League’s Vice President of Officiating, Mike Pereira, had this to say:

The whole issue is, you can’t go to the ground on your knees or with your hand or anything. There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord. If you do that, then I’m going to allow that, because I do not want to be struck by lightning, I promise you that. We will allow that.

The NFL is a private organization, of course. They can issue (or not issue) fines however they would like. But some consistency in the rules would be nice. If they want to allow Christian prayers after a touchdown, why not just come out and say it?

(Thanks to Aaron for the link)


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  • Rabid

    Call me stupid, but I fail to see the problem with ANY kind of celebration. You supposed to be all sombre and businesslike or some shit? I don’t get it.

    Then again, I don’t get why a team of heavily built, athletic men need to strap on armour to play rugby either.

    Guess I’ll deal with remaining in the dark on this one.

    tl;dr: Who gives a shit. You wanna praise the lord, go for it. You wanna pump your fist in the air like a maniac, go for it.

  • Ben

    No. They just end up making themselves look stupid.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    We need to find someone willing to slaughter a virgin in honor of Beelzebub after each touchdown. Where’s Pat Tillman when you need him?

  • Alan

    Another interesting point is that people pray in different ways. There are plenty of people who have their hands open and eyes up when they pray. While that may not be the instance here, the NFL could easily flag someone for the very thing they allow. What about players that go to the ground, look up and point one hand in the air and point to heaven? Its kind of funny that the NFL would make these sorts of exceptions when there is no uniform way religious players are going to celebrate.

    The penalty was dumb in the first place. You score a touchdown in the superbowl, go nuts.

  • Martin

    So the NFL stops players from having bible quotes on their eye-black, and having crosses on their uniforms, but won’t stop them from praying on the field? Where is the consistency here? I just wish they would fine or suspend every player who, when asked how they feel about winning the game, scoring a TD, etc replies that they owe it all to their imaginary friend, who must love them more than the other players.

  • I know nothing about football, but, from the photos you posted, it seems like the first one is much showier and swaggering (arms up and whooping) than the prayer (arms & head down). I thought the problem with excess celebration is that the showboating and machismo made the players look like bad role models and bad sports. As long as prayers are quiet and not directed at embarrassing the other team, I think they could pass unpenaltied.

    Of course, now I’m trying to imagine post-touchdown prayers that could be penalized for showboating: making the sign of the cross in an opposing player’s face? Being hoisted by teammates with arms outstretched in a cross and making a lap of the field?

    –Leah @ Unequally Yoked

  • This is a correct application of the rules as I understand them. The rules are pretty convoluted at this point, so take everything with a grain of salt.

    But the NFL forbids plays from “leaving their feet” while celebrating a touchdown. As such, going down on a single knee is acceptable because one foot is still on the ground. Two knee celebrations are forbidden, because you are off both feet. Strange arbitrary line, but what do your expect from the No Fun League?

  • coyotenose

    “Of course, now I’m trying to imagine post-touchdown prayers that could be penalized for showboating: making the sign of the cross in an opposing player’s face? Being hoisted by teammates with arms outstretched in a cross and making a lap of the field?”

    Drinking the Gatorade-flavored blood of your god?

    Burning a witch at the goalpost?

    Yelling “Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!”? (Google it, it was funny way back in ’96.)

  • cato123

    I have an idea for consistency….

    Give the player 10 seconds to do whatever as long as it does not violate another rule (taunting, punching an opposing player) or law (stripping naked). The ten seconds is not in addition to the next play clock.

    To ensure compliance, the PAT must be tried with the ball placed at the 30 yard line and the ensuing kick off taken from the goal line.

    This would accomodate the ridiculous, including the lord, with some objective standard while allowing for celebration. I’m no Skins fan, but I say bring back the Fun Bunch

  • Angel

    @Rabid

    My husband is explaining to me who ruined the “celebrating” thing for everyone…apparently Terrell Owens (sp?) would drag it on for minutes and it became a hang-up for the game, and a big reason for enacting the excessive celebration rules. In order to ensure that people wouldn’t grab sharpies and sign balls and then toss them into the crowd (that happened) after each touchdown, a few showboat players ruined it for everyone.

  • Unholy Holly

    I did notice this during the game, and thought the praying was equally as “excessive” as the jubilant expression with arms raised and immediately yelled “double-standard”! Who knows, though, maybe the first player is from an evangelistic church — who is to say he wasn’t praying, too? I think players should be allowed a few seconds to react –positively or negatively — as long as they are not directing their action with bad sportsmanship towards the opposing players. And why is the end zone so special? Are these actions any different than the manly-man antics I see in defensive players after they make an effective tackle? They prance around the field beating their chests sometimes – I think it adds to the drama of the game.

  • Secular Stu

    I don’t see any problem with it, even if it may be technically inconsistent. (I don’t think the knee hitting the ground is the important part of the rule.)

  • L.Long

    If I really cared about any sport I would love to see one of these idiots get taped asking g0d for help, then thanking S/He/IT for the win. Then charge them with cheating, show the tape as evidence, then try to see them prove that S/He/IT did NOT help!

    You know just like we are suppose to prove S/He?IT doesn’t exit.

  • NotYou007

    This is one I could care less about and I love me some football.

    I just find it ironic that they play on Sunday.

  • Vanessa

    I think the main reason for the penalty was that Collins spent a lot longer on his celebration than just taking a knee. If you watch the whole after-touchdown celebration, you see he dives across, gets up and raises his hands, goes down on his knees, etc etc.

    Let’s not cry wolf about christian privilege. It gives all atheists an even worse rap.

  • One guy did it with skill, the other had the Zombie Skylord magick things into place.

    I think player one is entitled to a little showmanship.

  • Tim

    I don’t see what’s wrong with celebrations at all, but if they’re going to penalize “going to the ground,” they damn well better penalize prayer. Why should praying players get off just because they’re praising some deity instead of praising themselves. “God” is just a reflection of the self, so either way they’re just stroking their massive ego. I don’t care either way. Although the athletes might be interested in my perception; to paraphrase the old quote “Better to keep your celebrations secular and be thought a fool, than to celebrate in prayer and remove all doubt.”

  • J

    I think that it should be up to the players: prostrating yourself in prayer in the courtroom is obviously not appropriate. Freaking out after an important athletic achievement is your choice.

    Stay off your knees, or let everyone go down.

  • stephen burrows

    Did anyone see the commercial at the SB for lookup316.com Ugh! Can’t they keep their religion out of my cool commercials and football? Very slick the way it was slid in. I wanted to puke.

  • Alex

    I wish I could remember the old time NFL player that said he would never celebrate when he scored since it was something he did all the time. I think Walter Payton was sort of like that, just spin the ball or hand it back to the ref.

  • There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord. If you do that, then I’m going to allow that, because I do not want to be struck by lightning, I promise you that.

    Ahhhhh, he believes in a vindictive god. Isn’t that interesting.

  • This is like…reason #14 why I don’t like organized sports, professional or otherwise.

    Those players made themselves look stupid, I bet, but in my humble opinion, they don’t make anyone look more stupid than the fans of the game.

    Religion is part of sports. They can have each other, imho.

  • ludovico

    The thing that gets me about all this is that by “cele-praying” in the end zone, the players are going against the very teaching of their professed Lord and savior: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray… to be seen by others. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door… do not keep on babbling… for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:5-7 TNIV)

  • Pustulio

    I wonder if it matters whether they’re actually praying. Would they penalize a player who “prays” but does so in a manner that is mocking or otherwise clearly insincere?

  • Well clearly this American “Football” isn’t cricket. If it were then some polite clapping would be the order of the day. There’d be none of this sycophantic prostration in prayer or ridiculous fears about unruly weather. If the weather were bad enough to risk lightning then the game would be postponed.

    You aren’t playing cricket and you Americans are well known for your exuberance. It seems appropriate to allow prayer, silly walks, wild gesticulations or other forms of celebratory behaviour. As long as the faithful draw a line before they get to sacrificing goats or children I don’t have much of an issue.

  • ewan

    If they want to allow Christian prayers after a touchdown, why not just come out and say it?

    Seems to me he did just come out and say it:

    There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord

  • I have no problem with someone else’s beliefs as long as they do not infringe on another person’s rights. Sadly – that is often the case with religious beliefs. Our goal should be to educate instead of ridiculing.

  • Silent Service

    Isn’t this really small potatoes? The players know the rules, or should. If it’s an issue let the players file a grievance with the NFL Commissioner.

  • MammaG

    If they are allowed to point upward when something good happens, they have to point downward when something bad happens.

  • Thegoodman

    I am an avid NFL fan but I am not defending the league; they are very uptight about celebrations.

    The issue has some history behind it, teams like the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcon had created some very large, elaborate, and time consuming celebrations that included most of the players on the field. The celebrations truly were getting out of hand and it was ridiculous for everyone who was witnessing them. To curtail this behavior, they made “excessive” celebrations a penalty. They had to draw the line somewhere, so they decided that going all the way to the ground is illegal, but standing and/or 1 knee was not. This clearly has to do with prayer, but also, among football players “one knee” is an acceptable way to rest between plays; sitting on the ground is not.

    “Take a knee” is a common phrase in football and it has nothing to do with prayer and is likely also related to the NFL competition committee’s decision.

    Also, its not as if he was kicked out of the game. It was only a 15 yrd penalty. Its not even a big deal, its more akin to a ‘delay of game’ that is common in every other sport.

  • Mike

    Two knee celebrations are forbidden, because you are off both feet.

    Unless he’s balancing on his knees, he’s still on both feet…

    Frankly, I’m a big fan of “Act like you’ve been there before.”

  • JM Shep

    I wonder if it matters whether they’re actually praying. Would they penalize a player who “prays” but does so in a manner that is mocking or otherwise clearly insincere?

    The mascot of my alma mater did just that a year or two ago. A player from the opposing team went down on one knee in the end zone, and our mascot went on one knee next to him. Everyone freaked out and demanded an apology from the mascot or the school or whatever. I wondered how they knew our mascot was mocking the player; maybe it was a gesture of solidarity.

  • JoJo

    1. He did come out and say it. He said they’ll allow prayer.

    2. Not believing in God is one thing. Your choice. Forcing other people to act (falsely) as if they believe like you do is a different and more offensive topic all together. Nothing wrong with expressing your beliefs by choosing not to pray. Nothing wrong with expressing your beliefs by choosing to pray. Knock yourself out. Just don’t make me care what you choose.

    3. If you’d scored a touchdown in the superbowl, you’d be celebrating too. The bigger issue is that they penalized the first guy for celebrating, not that they didn’t penalize the second guy for praying. If there’s no God, then who cares if he or you or anyone else out there says a prayer now and then. Whatever floats your boat.

  • t0ast

    Simple solutions:
    1) Change the excessive celebration rule. Give the team a ~15 second clock to do whatever, then expect them to IMMEDIATELY get back to the game.

    2) Watch rugby instead. It’s much better 🙂

  • C H

    I couldn’t care less. American football is crap, IMO.

    According to the WSJ, the game lasts about 3 hours, but in all that time, the ball is in play all of 11 minutes.

    http://on.wsj.com/8hCzWL

  • Don

    I have two reactions:

    a) They think God cares about football?

    b) Oh, let ’em dance if they want.

  • atheist cheesehead

    As an atheist cheesehead, I can only suggest one sensible compromise: no Packer should ever be flagged for excessive celebration following a touchdown, under any circumstance. All other players on other teams should be flagged for both secular kneeling and religious kneeling.

  • Redskin

    All these arguments are pointless. It’s a free country. No one is going to make everyone happy all the time. Deal with it.

  • Doug

    I’m really not sure how sincere those prayers are after a touchdown but rather a way of bringing attention to themselves.  Have you ever seen a player praying after they screw up…fumbling….throwing an interception….dropping an important pass???  Why aren’t they praying to make themselves a better player so as not to let their teammates and school down?  Instead, they are often found hiding and sulking on the bench.  I really question what they are  praying about and their sincerity. 

  • It is the mention of the name “Jesus” that causes more consternation than the mention of any other name.  I wonder why that is?