From a PR perspective, the National Football League is having a pretty lousy year. Take your pick of scandals and SNAFUs: Ray Rice punching his fiancé, Adrian Peterson whipping his son, (willful?) incompetence on the part of commissioner Roger Godell’s office, and the lingering fact that, in 2014, one of football’s marquee teams is still named for an ethnic slur. Yes, it’s safe to say that the NFL has been, for lack of a better word, fucking up pretty much everything they could possibly fuck up.
Not that these embarrassments have hurt profits, which, based largely on a football team’s control over television broadcast rights, seem to be doing just fine this year. Still, for an organization (or, loose confederation of organizations) with as many black eyes as the NFL has, you’d think that they’d be extra-cautious when it comes to anything that might make a team – and by association, the entire sport of football – seem even less tolerant than they may already be perceived.
This Monday, during the Kansas City Chiefs’ rout of The New England Patriots, Chiefs’ safety Husain Abdullah intercepted a Patriots pass, returning it for a fourth quarter touchdown. After completing the touchdown, Abdullah, a devout Muslim, slid on his knees in the end zone before prostrating himself in thankful prayer for stuffing it in Tom Brady’s face.
A professional football player, kneeling in prayer after an impressive display of athleticism. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Only, when Abdullah did it, refs pulled out the yellow flags and penalized him 15 yards for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
As CBC Sports reports:
“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.”
That’s precisely the explanation that Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he received from the game officials. They had no issue with the prayer, Reid said, only the celebratory slide. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(d) of the NFL rule book states that “players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.”
There is an exception if it happens as a demonstration of a player’s faith, and players such as former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow have kneeled after scoring touchdowns for years. But in most of those cases, players have come to a stop before briefly dropping to a knee in prayer. There are few instances in which they have slid to their knees.
In other words: It sounds like R.2, S.3, A.1(d) was invoked – maliciously or not (the NFL, to their credit, have since expressed regret over the decision) – in Abdullah’s case, but not for similar, equally show-boaty expressions of faith from other, non-Muslim players. *cough*TimTebow*cough* It’s an unfortunate oversight at best and a case of blatant, although again, not necessarily malicious, hypocrisy at worst (Okay, worst-worst would be if it was just flat-out racism, but even I don’t have that craven a mindset)
Which brings me to you, Gabe Carimi, Nate Ebner, Erik Lorig, Taylor Mays, Adam Podlesh, Geoff Schwartz, Mitchell Schwartz, and any other Jewish NFL’er I may have missed. As members of a religious minority yourselves, I assume you can appreciate the need for some ethnic solidarity between you and Abdullah when it comes to end-zone displays of faith.
So here’s what I propose:
As a sign of solidarity with Husain Abdullah, the next time any of you complete a successful play – any successful play – I want you to whip out a tallis and tffillin and start praying. And not just a quick “rub a dub-dub, yay god” number either. I want the works: Everything you remember from Hebrew school, assuming you’re not too concussed to remember that far back (oh yeah, did I mention the NFL has a serious head-injury problem, too?)
Complete a touchdown, but all you can remember are the blessings to say at a bris? Bring it on.
Sack the QB, and only know the Four Questions? Ma Nishtanah that motherfucker. (“How is this night different from all other nights? Tonight is the night I sacked you back to the stone age”)
Sure you’ll get some weird looks, and probably some yellow flags, too, but you’ll be striking a blow for religious freedom and doing your part to help bridge the gap between Muslims and Jews both on and off the gridiron. After all, if you don’t have each other’s backs on the football field, what hope do the rest of us have out here in the real world?