***Update***: Both Abdullah and Chiefs coach Andy Reid said the reason for penalty was for the slide, though when you see the replay below, it’s hard to separate the two.
***Update 2***: The NFL apologized earlier today for the penalty call:
Abdullah should not have been penalized. Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons.
— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) September 30, 2014
NFL says Chiefs S Husain Abdullah, a devout Muslim, should not have been penalized for an end zone celebration. pic.twitter.com/MECe6pzC5t
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 30, 2014
In Monday night’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, Husain Abdullah intercepted a pass from Tom Brady and ran it in for a touchdown. Afterwards, he celebrated by kneeling down and touching both hands to the ground — a brief prayer from the devout Muslim:
His team was immediately charged with a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration, or, as the ref put it, “unsportsmanlike conduct, going to the ground.”
Here’s what the NFL rulebook considers taunting in that manner:
Individual players involved in prolonged or excessive celebrations. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground. A celebration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate after a warning from an official.
It’s hard to see how his brief prayer qualifies under that rule — was that really a “celebration”? — but the bigger question remains: Is it any different from a Christian player pointing to the sky after a touchdown? What about Tebowing?
In the 2011 Super Bowl, something similar happened:
When the Green Bay Packers’ Nick Collins intercepted the ball and scored a (pretty exciting) touchdown, he got on his knees and threw his hands in the air. The refs said he went “to the ground after the score” and assessed the same sort of penalty.
But 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.
Unlike his teammate, Jennings didn’t get called for a penalty.
At the time, the National Football League’s Vice President of Officiating, Mike Pereira, said this:
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.
Pereira said something similar last year:
you're not penalized for going to the ground to give praise after a TD
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 25, 2013
The NFL is a private organization, so this isn’t a First Amendment issue. But the inconsistency is ridiculous.
Are brief prayers after a touchdown allowed or not?
Are Christian prayers allowed but Muslim prayers penalized?
Some clarification by the NFL would be great.
Chris Strauss of USA Today points out how the refs might have screwed this one up and how the NFL can make amends:
While social media is already full of accusations claiming a more diabolical double standard in penalizing Abdullah for his prayer, it’s equally possible that the referees saw him drop to his knees and threw the flag before recognizing what his intentions were.
The best thing the league could do is put out a definitive statement first thing Tuesday admitting that he shouldn’t have been flagged and that the officials made a mistake.
There’s no way the NFL is going to ban brief Christian prayers after a touchdown. They don’t need more bad publicity than they already have. But even if they allow prayers after a touchdown, what’s to stop someone who’s actually celebrating from saying, “But Ref, I was just thanking Jesus”?
I’d love to see that happen.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier. Thanks to Kyle for the link)