Kansas City Chiefs Safety Husain Abdullah was penalized Monday night during the fourth quarter of a game against the New England Patriots.
Abdullah, who is Muslim, intercepted a pass by opponent Tom Brady, and returned it for a touchdown.
According to the New York Times , after he entered the end zone, he slid on his knees and bowed forward with his head touching the ground, as if he were praying.
As a result, he was given a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The NFL has since admitted that the penalty was a mistake.
Michael Signora, a league spokesman, told ESPN, “The officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag player who goes to ground as part of religious expression, and as a result there should have been no penalty on the play,” further expressing that Abdullah should not have penalized.
This acknowledgment by the NFL comes in response to criticism implying that the NFL was showcasing a form of religious discrimination.
It is not unusual for football players to thank God after scoring touchdowns – for example, Tim Tebow, the former Broncos quarterback, once knelt on one knee after scoring.
The Chicago Bears’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall even gets on his knees and raises his arms heavenward after scoring a touchdown.
The question remains: was Abdullah singled out because he is Muslim? He is known to have skipped the entire 2012 season to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and was penalized for simply sliding into a traditional Muslim sajdah prayer with his palms and forehead touching the ground.
According to the NFL rulebook, prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player are illegal .
Players are also prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground.
However, the rulebook does not specify what constitutes a celebration.
Abdullah himself does not seem to think the penalty was for the prayer – after the game, he stated , “For me, I just got a little too excited…
I think it was for the slide.” Nonetheless, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in New York has called upon the NFL to clarify its rulebook guidelines.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, stated , “To prevent the appearance of a double standard, we urge league officials to clarify the policy on prayer and recognize that the official made a mistake in this case.”