NFL Responds Perfectly to Muslim Player Penalized for Praying

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 01, 2014 10:19 AM

Full disclosure: I am a Kansas City Chiefs fan. So it was with constant, uninterrupted joy that I watched Monday's molly-whopping of the New England Patriots by my hometown team.

Uninterrupted, at least, until a wee little mistake by the referees in the fourth quarter. After the Chiefs' Husain Abdullah snagged an interception and ran it for a touchdown, he immediately slid to the ground and prayed to Allah. A yellow penalty flag flew, giving the Patriots 15 yards on the ensuing possession. The subsequent touchdown made no difference -- the final score was 41-14 -- but it was worrisome that a player was penalized for praying on both knees (as Muslims do) while Christian players often drop to a knee in prayer without penalty.

However, the National Football League did the right thing and rescinded the call Tuesday morning, the closest thing to an apology a player will get from the league.

A Man of Faith

A few years ago, Hamza and Husain Abdullah walked away from their NFL contracts to go on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The hajj is one of the Five Pillars of faith for Muslims, a mandatory requirement that all Muslims are supposed to observe at some point in their lives.

When they returned, Husain got another shot at an NFL career after a workout with the Chiefs. Hamza didn't.

Husain has also made headlines repeatedly for observing Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, during NFL training camp.

Suffice it to say, religion is very important to Husain Abdullah, so when he scored that pick-6 touchdown, it was not at all surprising what came next:

The 'On the Ground' Celebration Rule

The penalty, however, was a bit of a surprise. Here's the rule, which is meant to curb excessive celebrations by players:

Section 3, Article I

(d) Individual players involved in prolonged or excessive celebrations. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground. A celebration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate after a warning from an official.

But there is an unwritten exception for religious expression, as explained by the NFL's former VP of Officiating (and now Fox Sports analyst) Mike Pereira:

Both Abdullah and Reid took the penalty in stride, pointing to his slide before the prayer as a possible reason for the flag, reports the Kansas City Star.

"For me, I just got a little too excited," Abdullah said. "I think it was for the slide."

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game: "When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide wherever you want. We've got two priests in here. They'd probably vouch for me."

NFL Admits Mistake

The NFL could've done what it has done far too much lately, and taken a tone-deaf approach to the problem. After all, it was a borderline call because of the "soccer-style" slide. But instead, it took the right route and reiterated the players' right to express their religious beliefs, reports the Star.

"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," NFL spokesman Michael Signora said.

There might be a lesson there for other businesses: From holiday parties, to catering choices, to inappropriate jokes between co-workers, often the best approach for situations where someone's mistake could lead to anything from hurt feelings to a discrimination claim is a simple apology and recognition of the mistake. After all, at least in the medical malpractice context, apologies have been shown to deter legal action.

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