Count the knees

Sarah Posner raises an interesting question – is it ok for Tim Tebow to pray on one knee after scoring a touchdown, but not ok for Husain Abdullah to pray on two knees in the same situation?

Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized last night for praying in the end zone after returning an interception for a touchdown. Tim Tebow has similarly prayed — although, apparently, the two prayers aren’t “similar:” one is Christian, and one is Muslim.

The Kansas City Star reports Abdullah is a “devout Muslim” who promised himself that if he scored a touchdown, “I’m going to prostrate before God in the end zone.” Last night, he was penalized for apparently violating Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) of the NFL rulebook (“players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.”)

The league has made exceptions, the Star reports, “for religious expressions, such as Tim Tebow’s prayer while kneeling. But Abdullah may have broken the rule by sliding with both knees into the prayer.”

Ok well the answer to that question would have to be no. Either neither is ok, or both are ok. The number of knees in contact with the ground can’t be the criterion, because it’s not much of a criterion – it looks a tad bit too much tailored for the occasion – as in, “Oh, oops, Tim Tebow was allowed to get away with it, so maybe we shouldn’t have penalized this Husain guy for doing pretty much the same thing. Oh dear. Oh, I know – he had two knees on the ground! Whew!”

But should they do it? No. I think they should knock it off. It’s missionary work, and I think people shouldn’t exploit audiences to do that. It’s obnoxious and rude.



  1. Kevin Kehres says

    Well, the NFL has said that the referees were wrong in penalizing Abdullah, so I think it’s pretty much a tempest in a teapot at this point.

    However, I will say that after viewing a video of his celebration, it wasn’t clear at all to me that he was praying. It looked pretty much like a celebratory knee slide with no god involved. In other words: intent isn’t magic.

    All of the rules about celebrating are pretty bizarre, anyway. After all, every Packer who scores a TD at home is obligated to leap into the stands in the end zone. Why is that not penalized for being excessive? It’s WAY more disruptive to the flow of the game than a Tebow- or Abdullah-style kneel-down.

    It’s all Kabuki.

  2. carlie says

    Spouse said yesterday the same thing as Kevin @1 – the penalty was for the long slide, not the bit at the end. Won’t know until someone tries it as a quick down-up, and see what the refs do.

  3. Cassidy McJones says

    The league has made exceptions, the Star reports, “for religious expressions, such as Tim Tebow’s prayer while kneeling. But Abdullah may have broken the rule by sliding with both knees into the prayer.”

    If the NFL doesn’t want celebrations or sliding celebrations or going-to-the-ground celebrations or whatever then be consistent. Why is a celebration given a free pass if it involves “praying”? So if Tebow wasn’t praying but just striking a pose, he draws a penalty. But if he’s praying – hey! Everything’s magically cool and dandy! Fuck that.

  4. says

    As with government making exceptions, that could leave the NFL in the position of deciding what counts as “religious.” Jared Allen, I think, used to do a cattle tying celebration prior to this rule after he would sack the QB. He should just declare that as part of his religion! Claim to be pastafarian and claim that he’s pretending to be using a noodly appendage as the tie. Done! Now he can’t be penalized anymore. …If only players like him would try to expose the issue.

  5. anbheal says

    I would be completely cool with the NFL penalizing prayer….. after touchdowns, before the game, on the sidelines — anywhere in public where it might offend non-Jesus-Freaks.

    But, in the larger scheme of things, a classy player just hands the ref the ball, and behaves as if scoring a touchdown is simply the job he’s paid to do. Only 340-lb. down linemen who get that one lucky bounce of a fumble or interception per career should be allowed to shimmy-shimmy-coco-bop when they score.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    I loved it every time Tebow did it, because he was was basically flipping the bird to Jesus every time he did it:

    And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men.
    Matthew 6:5

  7. says

    I carry no water for public prayer of any sort, but I can’t figure out why celebrating should be a penalty in the first place: Regardless of all the money involved, at the end of the day it’s still play; as long as they don’t constitute direct taunting, why should expressions of joy be considered offensive?

    in the larger scheme of things, a classy player just hands the ref the ball, and behaves as if scoring a touchdown is simply the job he’s paid to do

    Why is that “classy”? Spectator sports are supposed to be fun for the fans; what’s classy about the players acting like it’s not fun for them? And if the “classy” thing to do is be blasé about a touchdown (or any other successful play, for that matter), why shouldn’t fans be blasé about it, too?

    Mind you, I think [American] football has other problems, and probably won’t (and probably shouldn’t) survive beyond this generation… but the same question applies to other sports, and to American culture more broadly: Why do we think public expressions of joy are a bad thing?

  8. says

    Ya I don’t get that either. The only sport I watch is real football, aka soccer, and I enjoy watching the celebration after a goal. I certainly wouldn’t prefer to see it as just doing their job – that would be very dull.

  9. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Surely it would be more sensible to pray before trying to score a goal than after, if you’re going to pray at all? If praying is acceptable, how far will it go- would a player be allowed to build an altar and carry out a sacrifice in gratitude for a goal?

  10. drken says

    Bil and Ophelia: The NFL used to allow celebrations after a touchdown, but that was when spiking the ball was considered pretty outrageous behavior. Later, as group celebrations became more common, they banned them “before they started hiring choreographers” to quote a league official. There’s a reason they call it the No Fun League. As another example of the leagues war on fun, they recently banned basketball style dunking the ball over the goalposts. I guess smiling will be the next to go.

  11. says

    drken (@10):

    IIRC, they banned dunking over the crossbar after someone damaged the goalposts doing it and cause a lengthy delay in the middle of a game. There’s also a risk of injury doing it. I really don’t have a problem with something like that, where they’re responding to an actual problem. I also don’t have a problem with bans on direct taunting of opponents, since that really is unsporting, and creates a risk of fights.

    But while the NFL really does seem to be the No Fun League, I’m really talking about something more broadly cultural: this notion that somehow it’s not “classy” for an athlete to celebrate success, whether it’s a football player celebrating a touchdown or a hitter in baseball watching his home run ball a little too long or a fist-pump in golf. We have this idea that the “correct” thing for athletes to do is to act like these moments of achievement — the very things we’re paying (one way or another) to see — are no big deal, and I just don’t get that.

    We don’t expect this of other entertainers: Imagine if a rock guitarist finished an incredible solo and then just handed the guitar to a roady and walked, businesslike and head down, off the stage, because, after all, she was “just doing the job she was paid for”?

  12. drken says

    @Bill (11):
    There’s also a racial component as endzone celebrations began as more of an african-american thing, which opens up a whole other can of worms.

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