30 September 2014

Muslim Defeats Patriots

Don't worry: it was only a game. The Kansas City Chiefs, who are somehow less offensive to people than the Washington Redskins -- perhaps location matters -- soundly whipped the New England Patriots in yesterday's Monday Night Football game. One of the highlight for Chiefs fans -- and for the many haters of the too-successful Patriots -- was a pass interception ran back for a touchdown by Kansas City safety Husain Abdullah. A devout Muslim (convert or native I don't know), Abdullah actually skipped a season of pro football so he and his brother could make the pilgrimage to Mecca. He's also an exuberant football player in the modern demonstrative style. As he crossed the goal line, he slid to his knees and then made a prayerful bow to thank Allah for his success. The Chiefs were then penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Everyone was quick to deny that Abdullah was penalized specifically for making a sort of Muslim prayer in the end zone. Abdullah himself assumes that the referee actually objected to his flamboyant knee slide. The NFL has had an issue with end-zone celebrations going back generations. They seem unseemly to old-timers who recall a stoicism that once was the image of unpretentious heroism in sports. The old ideal was the wide receiver who, having caught the touchdown pass, calmly handed the football to the referee and reported back to the sidelines. Our culture has grown more exhibitionist since then, and the argument has been made that some people need to celebrate their triumphs. Throughout professional sports, this triumphalism is taken to absurdity by the devoutly religious. To me, the silliest such spectacle is the Christian baseball player who needs to cross himself or point his index fingers skyward to thank the Lord for hitting a single. In football, the more secular celebrations have always borne an inference of taunting that make them "unsportsmanlike" in official eyes. Add Islam into the mix and things could grow more volatile. Muslims have played in the NFL since the fad for "reversions" to Islam, orthodox or otherwise, began in the 1960s. Muslim football players are rarely as overtly devout as Abdullah. One covert, Ahmad Rashad, was so unthreatening a figure that he became a successful sports broadcaster in the 1980s after his retirement from the game. Husain Abdullah is being compared not with his Muslim predecessors in football but with a more recent player: Tim Tebow, the failed quarterback who gained a (dare I say?) cult following because of his overt Christianity. To my knowledge, Tebow was never penalized for striking prayerful poses after throwing touchdowns or running them in, though some of his fans believe his NFL career was thwarted due to secular-humanist antipathy toward his devotions. For now, it remains a matter of interpretation whether Abdullah was punished for his devotions. As I noted, he doesn't think so himself, but a statement from the league declaring the referee wrong for having penalized him suggests that the front office is worried about having appeared Islamophobic last night. If anything, however, the NFL more likely will be accused of "political correctness" for its retraction. In the long view, this episode is just another complication in the league's conflict with itself over the behavior of players on the field. By now, I suspect, most people have no idea why anyone objects to end-zone celebrations. Most fans see them as part of the entertainment, but the NFL seems haunted by the lingering idea that entertainment and sports are two different things. On top of that, religion is a third thing altogether -- or is it?...


hobbyfan said...

I read of the admission of a mistake earlier. Abdullah's pick-6, as they're fond of calling interception returns for TD's these days---started with college announcers, mind you---was the icing on the cake for Kansas City.

Fret not for New England. They have a home game vs. Cincinnati next, and will likely take it out on the Bengals by any means necessary. As goes Crybaby Brady, so go the Patriots after a loss.

Even Abdullah himself admitted the flag might've been for the slide, and not the prayer. Smart guy.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Tebow: His fans should blame god for the failed career. After all, in the Bible, book of Matthew, 6:5-6 wherein Jesus calls those who pray in public out as "hypocrites" while exhorting his followers to pray in secret and in private.