He was issued a 15-yard penalty on the grounds of unsportsmanlike conduct for his display of Sajda, a form of Islamic prayer. Abdullah is an outspoken, practicing Muslim, and even gave up his 2012 NFL season for a pilgrimage to Mecca with his brother. Despite the common practice performed by Muslims throughout the world every day, the gesture was seen as excessive by the referee.
To be fair, the NFL rulebook clearly prohibits ground celebrations, like breakdancing for example, but it’s always made religious exceptions. For multiple generations, players have knelt down to a knee and bowed their head in prayer, either in celebration, before or after the game, or huddled near an injured player down on the turf. And lest I forget the fairly recent example of Tim Tebow and his now iconic, “Tebowing.”
Based on the acceptance of something like that and the NFL’s reaction to Sajda on Monday night, it’s easy to see why some would view this as hypocritical.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Tuesday concerning Abdullah’s penalization. According to an ESPN online article, CAIR’s spokesman Ibrahim Hooper expressed concern over the league’s actions. “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,” said Hooper.
The NFL has also issued a statement this morning claiming Abdullah shouldn’t have been penalized. Perhaps the current issues already damaging the league’s image have inspired its team of lawyers and PR managers to act quickly in this case.
The NFL has a problem, in fact it has many problems. It’s currently in crisis control to the likes which have never been seen by the league’s higher-ups.
They are now having to deal publicly with domestic violence among players after sweeping the issue under the rug for generations. A body of evidence is growing that links football with the degenerative brain disease CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. The St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam recently, the NFL’s first openly Gay player, despite being the SEC’s top-rated defensive player last year. And now we see the league’s ignorance when it comes to recognizing other religions.
It was likely an honest mistake by the referee. Again, the rulebook clearly states no celebrations on the ground, and that’s what the ref saw. Nevertheless, if Christian prayer is allowed, other kinds of prayer should be recognized and accepted as well. If Tim Tebow can be portrayed heroically whilst kneeling before Jesus, Hussain Abdullah should at very least go un-penalized for kneeling before Allah.