Husain Abdullah, a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs and a devout Muslim, was hit with a penalty flag during the Chiefs v. Patriots game on Sept. 29, sparking worldwide controversy over the double standard of religious rules in the NFL.
Abdullah scored his second career touchdown, slid into the end zone on his knees, and then hovered in prayer with his knees on the ground and his head to the turf. He was immediately hit with a 15 yard penalty. The referee cited unsportsmanlike conduct due to excessive celebration as reason for the flag.
The decision to penalize Abdullah was disconcerting to me as a religious activist and universal rule breaker. Upon replay of the scene, it appeared that there was no excessive celebration. It was a player quickly thanking his Allah for being blessed and thankful.
In the same way, Tim Tebow, a Christian and former quarterback for the Broncos, routinely knelt on one knee in prayer after scoring a touchdown. He was never penalized for his prayer, and was immediately supported by religious groups for showing his faith publicly.
So clearly, there is a religious double standard in the NFL. More specifically, the problem seems not to be the act of prayer, but the one who is praying. Though the referees insisted that Abdullah was penalized for sliding into the end zone, I have a sinking feeling he was penalized for being Muslim.
The Islamaphobia that seems to penetrate American culture has undoubtedly bled into mainstream U.S. sports leagues. While being a Christian is celebrated, being a Muslim is seemingly branded as “terroristic” and dubious to “American values.”
Wake up, America, we have no official religion. The Founding Fathers were non-sectarian. We, citizens, need to start celebrating religious pluralism which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Once, at a press conference, Abdullah stated that he would immediately go to the ground and thank Allah if he was to score. That is exactly what he did on Sept. 29. He has never been ashamed of his religion and religious practices. It seems to me that the only people who should be ashamed are citizens who penalize others, through an innocuous incident, for their choice of god.
Whether or not this incident was deliberate or unintentional Islamophobia, we all need to be aware of the rampant prejudice against Muslims, and other religious minorities, in America. We should not be afraid to call out the NFL, or our own neighbor, on their shameful prejudices.