KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CBS St. Louis/AP) — The NFL says a Kansas Chiefs player should not have been penalized after sliding to his knees in a Muslim prayer following an interception return for a touchdown.
In the second half of the Kansas City Chiefs 41-14 blowout win over the New England Patriots, Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah picked off a Tom Brady pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. The devout Muslim then slid to his knees in the end zone and prayed. Abdullah was penalized 15 yards afterward for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Abdullah told reporters he believes he got the penalty because he slid to his knees.
“I got a little too excited,” Abdullah said. “I don’t think it was because of the actual prostration that I got the penalty. 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.”
The NFL said in a statement that Abdullah should not have been penalized.
“Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora told Pro Football Talk. “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.”
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.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy organization, issued a statement early Tuesday asking that the NFL take steps in response to the penalty.
“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,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.
Reid didn’t agree with the penalty, but he also didn’t make much of it.
“When you go to Mecca,” he said, referring to the end zone, “you should have the privilege to slide anywhere you want to slide. We have two priests in here. I think they will vouch for me.”
Indeed, there were two pastors sitting in Reid’s postgame news conference.
Abdullah is in his second year with the Chiefs after spending an entire season away from the game. He decided that, in the prime of his career, he would join his brother Hamza — who also was playing in the NFL at the time — to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Fifth Pillar of Islam is The Hajj, the pilgrimage that all Muslims are supposed to make once in their lifetime.
Abdullah, who also fasts during Ramadan, told the AP in an interview last year the brothers wanted to make sure they did the pilgrimage while they still had the health and means to go.
In the case of Hamza, it proved costly. He never got a shot to return to the NFL.
Husain Abdullah said he didn’t expect any repercussions from his penalty Monday night, least of all from his coach. After all, it was Reid who gave him an opportunity to work his way back into the league after he had stepped away.
“I’m pretty sure he understands who I am, what my faith is,” he said. “And again, I think the prostration is all right. It’s the slide. Come to a full stop, get down, make the prostration, get up and get out.”
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)