(CNN) — Husain Abdullah can kneel and pray pretty much anywhere in America he wants. Except, perhaps, for an NFL end zone.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ safety and devout Muslim was flagged for “unsportsmanlike conduct” after sliding to his knees in prayer to celebrate a touchdown Monday night.
On Tuesday, the NFL said the referee botched the call.
“Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct,” said Michael Signora, a league spokesman.
The rules prohibit players from celebrating while on the ground, but officials should not “flag a player who goes to the ground as part of a religious celebration,” Signora added.
After the game, Abdullah told reporters that he might have been penalized because he slid and celebrated too excitedly, not because of the prayer.
The safety said he told himself earlier in the game that if he scored a touchdown he would “prostrate before God in the end zone.”
“I got a little too excited,” Abdullah said, according to ESPN. “So, I think it was because of the slide.”
Abdullah’s coach, Andy Reid, also said Monday that the referees told him the slide, not the prayer, led to the penalty.
The NFL rulebook states:
Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.”
But Muslims online flagged NFL referees for having a double standard.
Others pointed out that Tim Tebow, an evangelical Christian, was not penalized for “Tebowing” — kneeling in prayer — during games.
In 2011, CNN covered Abdullah’s decision to fast for Ramadan during the grueling NFL training camp.
Tuesday morning, the Chiefs’ safety posted this photo on Instagram.