Religious Discrimination in the NFL

Husain AbdullahWhat do you know? I have an opinion about football! When I was a kid watching the NFL (don’t faint), players would celebrate when they made a touchdown. And at some point, the NFL decided that it was out of hand. I can see what they meant. There was a lot of showboating and it could be a bit much. It also doesn’t show respect to the other team that, after all, must feel bad about allowing the touchdown. Indeed, when a player does such showboating, the penalty he gets is for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Little did I know that just like there is a delusion exception in psychiatry, there is a showboating exception in the NFL — for religion. Well, it isn’t really showboating. Players are allowed to kneel down on one knee or make the cross or whatever. It isn’t extravagant. Just the same, it does shove God in the face of the opposing team: God blessed me and made you look like a jerk! But that’s the way we are about religion — we make exceptions for it and I don’t especially care. The NFL says it is okay to thank God for a touchdown, as long as you aren’t too ostentation about it. Fine.

Well, Monday night’s game between the Chiefs and the Patriots had a bit of a dust-up. Husain Abdullah is a safety for the Chiefs and he is a devout Muslim. After intercepting a pass, he ran it back 40 yards for a touchdown. It’s only the second of his career and it is a very big deal. And as a religious man, Abdullah knows that God is never too busy to pick sides in a football game, so he kneeled down and touched his head to the ground. This is apparently a standard Muslim thing. I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter if he made the whole thing up.

There was no showboating here, in the traditional non-religious sense. He was very fast about it. I’ve timed it, and to two significant digits, it took 1.1 seconds. If Tim Tebow had ever been that efficient, the whole atheist community would have shouted with joy. But regardless of how ostentatious and annoying Tebow was, he never got a penalty. But Abdullah did. He got a 15 yard penalty for the aforementioned “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Not that it matters. The Chiefs crushed the Patriots. That’s what happens when God is on your side.

Clearly, this is wrong, however. And the NFL has said so and they are not going to fine Abdullah as they normally would. It is also very likely that the official who called the penalty didn’t know that Abdullah was doing his religion’s equivalent of making the cross. Or maybe he did and like most Americans, he just hates Muslims. I don’t know. It does seem a bit odd though. Click over to SB Nation, Husain Abdullah Was Penalized for… Praying? It’s kind of hard to miss that it is a “thing.” It isn’t just random celebration.

But it raises an interesting question. I’m not a religious person, but I hold certain ideas with just as much reverence as any religious person does. Why would I not be allowed to come up with my own ritual to express that? Why would I be dependent upon some official knowing and accepting what I had done? And for that matter, what is Rod Tidwell’s touchdown dance at the end of Jerry Maguire if not a religious expression? Why does the fact that it’s idiosyncratic make it unsportsmanlike?

The NFL has much bigger problems than this. But it does seem to me that they need to nail this down. The best thing is to get rid of the religious exception. The truth is that praising God for a touchdown is offensive to all gods — regardless of whether they exist or not. Or the NFL should allow any kind of celebration. They could put a time limit on it — five seconds perhaps. But the current situation is ridiculous and totally offensive to minority religions and non-religions.


H/T: Amanda Taub

5 thoughts on “Religious Discrimination in the NFL

  1. American attitudes towards others such as Muslims seem not optimal, but Frank, do you really think an actual majority of Americans genuinely hate Muslims, as in more than half? I’m not sure that more than half of Americans actually and genuinely ‘hate’ anyone. But since I lived there only one year (and visited Santa Rosa numerous times BTW), perhaps I think better of Americans than do you!

    • No, I don’t. I was exaggerating. I actually think pretty highly of Americans. My problem comes in with how easy it is to get them riled up about nonsense. Of course, that doesn’t make them any different from anyone else. But I do think there is something special about the right wing media in this country. It is very effective at getting conservatives to think things they wouldn’t normally think. I used to write about this more than I do now: on the issues I care most about (basically the economy), I find a huge amount of common ground with conservatives. But give them just one day of Fox News pushing “makers vs takers” and they get lost.

      The biggest example of this is with Obamacare. Conservatives (and many non-conservatives) are only against it because they’ve been trained to be against it. And we can tell because they don’t even know what the law is.

    • It is nothing special I did. It is just that switching over to WordPress was such a great thing! This is one of them. Once I approve someone, they are approved from then on until I un-approve them. I will probably soon add some kind of system for alerting people about replies. I’m very pleased with WordPress! There is so much you can do with it and it makes managing a blog and creating content for it so much easier.

  2. Just for the record, from a Canadian perspective, Americans are not unique in their ability to get riled up about nonsense, but they seem a lot easier to herd than in any other democratic country.

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