Tue 30 Sep 2014
Comments Off on WWJD after a touchdown
Anyone who has watched NFL or NCAA football or listened to interviews with major football players will find a large amount of talking about Jesus. Tim Tebow, the Florida quarterback went so far as to inscribe Bible verses on his forehead. Jesus talk, like trash talk, is as much a part of the game as fighting in hockey. But heaven (and you know which one I mean) forbid if you have a Muslim name, pick off a pass by a Patriot like Tom Brady, scoot into the endzone and slide into a position that for literally three seconds looks like the Muslim prayer position. This happened to Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah in Sunday’s game. If he had raised his hands and said “Thank you, Jesus” the refs would not have batted an eye, but if he has a Muslim name he must not be allowed to look like he might be praying. Who knows how many ISIL terrorists would be inspired by such an act! Thus, a 15 yard penalty, but it is more than that.
On top of the prejudice, whether premediated or not, the ref has a very poor understanding of how Muslims pray. The most important part of prayer is intention. A Muslim prepares for prayer with ablutions and with a mindset that is focused on the spiritual. Running into the endzone is a thrill and one can understand the excitement of Husain as he slid on his knees. But anyone who looks at the video can see that he was not actually praying. Prayer is a ritual with stages, not what position you end up in at the end of a slide. It was no more a literal religious act than a “Thank you Jesus” would be.
This penalty says more about how Muslims are stereotyped in the West than what is proper on the playing field. It is assumed that someone with a Muslim name is therefore so devout that he or she lives the religion all day long in every single act. There are indeed Muslim players in the NFL, but they do not take time off on the sidelines to do one of the daily prayers; I suspect some rarely pray at all. Everyone accepts that you can be Christian or Jewish and be secular. A religious identity need not be labeled by what the most devout or the most extreme practitioners do. My point is not to question Husain’s faith, which is his own business, but to insist that there be a level playing field for silly penalties that detract from a professional, media-dominated game that is exhibitionist by its very nature. There was no hot dogging, no spiking, no jumping into the stands, just a slide after an interception. I doubt that anyone in the stands looked at what happened and said, “Oh my God, he’s praying to Allah.”
So WWJD (if you don’t know what these initials stand for, you probably have not spend much time in America’s Bible Belt)? The Gospels record Jesus getting angry, but he was angry at hypocrites and money changers (no doubt franchise owners would be on his radar today) and not ordinary people. When the pious big shots of his day tried to pin him down on the many rules of the “law,” Jesus said that all you really needed to do was love and then all the other commandments would naturally follow. He did not throw stones, even at a prostitute, so I doubt there would have been a penalty called if Jesus had been the ref.