The NFL announced Tuesday the penalty given Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah for praying was a mistake. Abdullah, who is Muslim, slid on his knees and bowed forward after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game on Monday night.
The league prohibits players from celebrating on the field, but religious prayer is exempt. "The officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play," NFL spokesman Michael Signor told the Associated Press.
Abdullah was cited after kneeling. Soon, social media lit up criticizing the league for penalizing the Kansas City Chiefs safety but not NFL quarterback Tim Tebow who is known for his signature “Tebowing” gesture where he drops to one knee in Christian prayer.
you're not penalized for going to the ground to give praise after a TD
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 25, 2013
If the NFL tries to fine @HAbdullah39 for his TD celebration there's going to be some problems.
— CJ LaBoy (@CJLaBoy) September 30, 2014
The refs should be embarrassed for giving Hussein Abdullah a penalty for that. He was praying for God's sake!!!!....literally ;)
— Ryan golt (@Rgolteez) September 30, 2014
Abdullah just got a penalty for being Muslim basically
— James Gomes (@James_Gomes7) September 30, 2014
Hussein Abdullah celebrating with the Muslim prayer motion. Didn't know going to your knees is an automatic celebration penalty.
— Asif Patel (@CantStopTheFunk) September 30, 2014
Abdullah has been an outspoken member of his faith. In 2012 he walked away from the entire NFL season to take a spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca with his brother, Hamza, also an NFL player. After Monday’s game Abdullah said he knew even before he reached the end zone he would kneel after he intercepted a pass from Tom Brady.
"I don't think it was because of the actual prostration that I got the penalty," Abdullah told The Associated Press afterward. "I think it was because of the slide," he said referring to how he slid to his knees before bowing forward in prayer. Kneeling in the end zone would be a violation of the league’s excessive celebration rule.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Tuesday asking the NFL clarify its position on the controversial penalty. “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,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.
Abdullah admitted the moment will remain in his memory for reasons other than the controversy it caused. The interception he made from Brady, a future Hall of Famer, was the sixth one he’s made in his professional career. “That’s definitely going up in the house,” Abdullah told the Kansas City Star about the game’s football. “That’s a ball that’s definitely going up in the game room area.”