When openly Christian quarterback Tim Tebow dropped to a knee in prayer, it became a national meme. When devoutly Muslim Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah celebrated his touchdown in a similar fashion, he got a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 15-yard penalty.
Abdullah’s celebration came after he scored a touchdown against the New England Patriots in Monday's game, which the Chiefs won 41-14. After intercepting a pass from Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady, he dashed 39 yards into the end zone before sliding to both knees and placing his forehead to the ground. The action is a religious prayer known as a Sajdah.
NFL rules prohibit celebrating while on the ground, but exception are made for religious celebrations, as in the case of Tebow.
Michael Signora, the vice president of NFL communications, said on Tuesday that Abdullah should not have been penalized. “Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons,” Signora wrote in a Tweet.
Abdullah told The Kansas City Star that he thinks the flag was issued because he fell onto both knees and slid. “For me, I just got a little too excited,” Abdullah said. “I think it was for the slide.”
The 29-year-old football player is known for being devoutly Muslim. He missed out on the 2012 season in order to make a pilgrimage to Mecca with this brother Hamza, an eight-year NFL veteran who formerly played for the Arizona Cardinals.
Abdullah has now made six interceptions in his career. “If I get a pick, I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone,” he said.
The penalty immediately caused controversy for implying a religious double standard on the part of the NFL. The league has battled intense criticism in recent weeks over seemingly unequal punishments for players facing domestic abuse charges, as well as a highly publicized case of alleged child abuse. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fended off numerous calls to step down.
“We’ve seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong, that starts with me,” Goodell told reporters recently.