During the Kansas City Chiefs’ 41-14 dismantling of the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, safety Husain Abdullah scored the second touchdown of his career after intercepting a pass from Tom Brady. Once in the end zone, Abdullah slid to his knees and bowed down for a brief moment of what looked like prayer. Muslim prayer, that is. He was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct — excessive celebration — because it didn’t quite look like when Tim Tebow used to do it.
Abdullah is known around the league as a devout Muslim and took the entire 2012 season off to make hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. “If I get a pick, I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone,” he’s said previously.
The 15-yard penalty was less expected. Although the official rulebook says “players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground,” NFL rules expert Mike Pereira has said that prayer is an exception:
Abdullah, after the game, was exceptionally sportsmanlike. “For me, I just got a little too excited,” he said. “I think it was for the slide.” His coach politely disagreed. “When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want,” said Andy Reid. “We’ve got two priests in here. They’d probably vouch for me.”
Abdullah’s brother, a fellow NFLer with whom he made the pilgrimage, reacted to the play on Twitter:
As Deadspin notes, so did Abdullah’s agent:
The league, at this point, is used to that.
Update: Perhaps a bit sensitive to bad press, the NFL has quickly come out against the flag. "Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown," league spokesperson Michael Signora told NBC’s PFT. "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."