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The NFL Now Says It was Wrong To Penalize a Muslim Player for Praying After a Touchdown

The message was clear: praying to the Christian god on the field is apparently a-okay, but giving thanks to the Muslim deity is a violation of NFL policy.
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Photo: USA Today

When Tim Tebow felt compelled to genuflect before the awesome glory of his god six times a game like there was a Skinner Box treat in it for him, nobody gave him crap for it. Well, snotty little heretics like me gave him crap for it, but no one officially gave him any trouble -- as in, no one from the NFL ever penalized him. And yet last night, Kansas City Chiefs' safety Husain Abdullah was cited for "unsportsmanlike conduct" because, after picking off a Tom Brady pass and running it in for a touchdown, he got down on his knees, touched his head to the ground and briefly prayed. The message was clear: praying to the Christian god on the field is apparently a-okay, but giving thanks to the Muslim deity is a violation of NFL policy.

To the league's credit, and no doubt in an attempt to avoid one more public relations problem it doesn't need, this morning NFL spokesman Michael Signora told USA Today that it was wrong to flag Abdullah's behavior. The rule on such things, and the NFL's mea culpa, reads as follows:

Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) states 'players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.' However, 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.

I'm not a fan of religion but I'm even less of a fan of double-standards when it comes to religion -- which is part of the reason I think that expressions of faith should remain a largely private thing -- so it's good that the NFL has corrected what was at best knee-jerk ignorance and at worst outright antipathy on the part of the refs officiating last night's game. If you're going to inexplicably sanction a guy like Tebow's public witnessing, you have to allow for someone like Husain Abdullah doing basically the same thing. Both of their gods are ridiculous, but neither is somehow less ridiculous than the other.

What's fun about this is that it looks as if Allah has now taken a seat right next to the Christian god in the great football stands in the sky, as he's now been relegated to receiving thanks for the most trivial of alleged divine interventions. Comic Jeff Stilson used to do a great bit where he asked why so many sports stars credit God with their victories, but no one ever blames him when they lose. "We were really in the game -- until Jesus made me fumble," he'd say. It was a great way to poke fun at the ludicrous and entirely narcissistic assumption that the creator of the universe would give a shit one way or the other who won a football game.

Now we can imagine almighty Allah also taking the time out of his busy schedule -- one normally consumed by ratifying the beheading of apostates and setting up the virgins for incoming martyrs -- to root for his favorite football player, Husain Abdullah, and make sure he's successful against New England. As for the fact that Abdullah's entire career consists of trying to get his hands around the skin of a pig -- I guess he'll cross that bridge when he gets to it.