On-field displays: Lions prefer to pray in private

http://www.freep.com/story/sports/nfl/lions/2014/10/03/detroit-lions-players-praying-endzone/16632389/

On-field displays: Lions prefer to pray in private

Detroit Lions cornerback Mohammed Seisay is a Muslim and considers himself religious. But he initially did not see the religious celebration Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized for this week and he doesn’t think he would emulate it.

“Everybody’s different,” said Seisay, an undrafted rookie from Nebraska who was promoted from the practice squad two week ago. “He chose to do that celebration at that moment and that time. There’s a couple of guys in the league who are Muslims and they don’t really do what he just did. So everybody, they show their religious side differently.”

Inside the Lions’ locker room, where roughly a dozen of about 70 players gather for a weekly chapel service, there has been little talk this week about the penalty Abdullah received for celebrating his interception return for a touchdown on “Monday Night Football.”

When Abdullah reached the end zone, he slid onto his knees, bent over and put his hands and head on the ground. It’s a gesture Muslims call the “prostration of thankfulness.”

But referees mistakenly gave Abdullah an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for breaking the rule of “engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.”

Like a lot of Muslims who watched the game or heard about the penalty, Dawud Walid had the same reaction.

“Most of the people I heard from said, ‘What about Tim Tebow?’ ” said Walid, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan. “So whether the flag was thrown out of ignorance or some sort of animus, the people that I’ve spoken with thought there was a double standard at play.”

Tebow is the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star quarterback famous for espousing his Christian beliefs and kneeling in silent prayer often on the field.

But Abdullah, an undrafted sixth-year player, appeared to be punished out of the referees’ ignorance. The NFL rectified the situation quickly.

A few hours after the game, Michael Signora, NFL vice president of football communications, posted this message on Twitter: “Abdullah should not have been penalized. Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons.”

Signora declined an interview request from the Free Press. But in an e-mail, he wrote that game officials would be reminded not to penalize players who go to the ground as part of religious expression.

“The NFL was the body that said the penalty flag should not have been thrown, not the referee,” Walid said. “But we’re pleased with the NFL’s swift and clear statement regarding that incident that took place during the Monday night game.”

Seisay, like many young players trying to carve out a career in the highly competitive NFL, said he prefers not to draw attention to himself through any of his actions. When it comes to his religion, he goes about demonstrating it quietly on game days.

“I just keep my own prayers to myself,” he said. “And when I’m getting ready for a game, I just go to my locker and just pray to myself and go on the field, say a couple of words and go play.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, a Christian who regularly quotes from the Bible, said he doesn’t interfere with how players celebrate their faith and religion.

“I kind of leave that up to them,” he said Thursday. “I don’t encourage it or discourage it, and I’m certainly not shy about sharing mine when time is permitted and allowed and when I feel like it.

“But to go into deep discussions about what you should do and shouldn’t do in the end zone and how you should go about it, they know the rules and we try to comply by them.”

Cornerback Rashean Mathis and Seisay sit only a few lockers away from each other. Mathis is a 12-year veteran and a Christian. Seisay is rookie and a Muslim. But both are men of faith, and both believe in a quiet celebration of that faith on the field.

“The God that I believe in doesn’t want you to create a scene for yourself,” Mathis said. “But if it’s acknowledging him in a humble way, it should be given.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@cmonarrez.

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