The NFL is once again found itself a talking point for the wrong reasons after a Kansas City Chiefs player was penalised for praying after he scored a touchdown in Monday night’s 41-14 win over the New England Patriots.
Chiefs’ safety Husain Abdullah was delighted to pick off a Tom Brady throw and return the interception for a touchdown. He immediately slides down onto his knees and, being of Muslim faith, prayed in celebration.
It’s not uncommon for players to do such a thing, with many Christian players raising their hands and looking to the sky to celebrate.
However, the referee crew officiating the match threw a penalty flag on the play, and penalised Abdullah 15-yards due to “falling to the ground on the knees”. Needless to say, a giant can of worms had already been opened.
The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty immediately flooded social media sites, with many users on Twitter arguing the case against penalising Abdullah. There is a ruling in the NFL rulebook that says excessive celebration after a play can be penalised, although for the players it is regarded as a grey area with the terminology stating players are “prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground”.
It does not specifically mention and players who celebrate through prayer, although religious acts are tended to be treated with leniency by the NFL officials.
Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, pointed out that Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears had performed a similar celebration and received no penalty on the play, while Tim Tebow's famous 'Tebowing' pose had gone unpunished during his time in the NFL.
This can be seen when looking at previous cases, such as the celebration displayed by Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver Greg Jennings during Super Bowl XLV, but his team-mate Nick Collins was hit with a 15-yard penalty when he took to the ground to celebrate. What’s the difference between the two? Decide for yourselves...
Following Monday’s match though, Abdullah accepted the ruling with grace, and revealed that in his eyes he was penalised for sliding into the prayer rather than the prayer itself.
However, the incident has still kicked up a fuss with fans claiming he wouldn’t have been penalised had he been a Christian celebrating a touchdown, and at a time when the NFL needs some seriously positive publicity, this is another unwelcome incident in the 2014 season. NFL advisor CJ Laboy, who represents Abdullah, later tweeted that the League would have "problems" on their hands should they decide to fine him.