In recent weeks, the National Football League has been blamed for many problems in American society. Minnesota’s premier newspaper just added another: Professional football is encouraging impressionable youths to join the Islamic State.
After Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized for a touchdown celebration in which he bowed down in prayer, a Minneapolis Star Tribune op-ed writer accused the league of jeopardizing national security through Islamophobia.
“For anyone wondering why angry Muslims join ISIL, this whole saga could easily make the list,” wrote Ahmed Tharwat, a host of a weekly Arab-American show on Twin Cities public television.
The NFL subsequently said the referees made the wrong call, but Tharwat and other commentators have used the episode to attack the league’s and the nation’s “Islamophobic culture.” The headline of Tharwat’s piece described the United States as a thoroughly anti-Islamic culture: “NFL flap highlights America’s favorite game: Insulting Islam.”
Tharwat accuses football of being “too patriotic” and “too American” when contrasted with the international — and therefore more tolerant — flavor of soccer. The author suggests that American football fans should take cues from their transnational brethren who have had to be told to “Say No to Racism” through a multimillion-dollar worldwide campaign by FIFA after repeated incidents such as making monkey noises and throwing bananas at black players. In some cases, teams have been forced to play in completely empty stadiums as punishment for their fans’ racism.
But when bananas and slurs aren’t enough, and the fans are actually allowed in, soccer aficionados have been known to offer themselves as tokens of their supposedly cultural sophistication. In July, a preseason match in Austria involving Israeli soccer team Maccabi Haifa was stopped early after pro-Palestine protesters stormed the field and began attacking the team’s players. Maccabi’s coach told the Daily Mail that he was punched by the attackers.
But Tharwat has a greater concern: In the “post-ISIL beheading era,” the United States has become a place where “people on the street, politicians and the media (led by Fox News) call for the beheading of Islam.”
In fact, the Islamic beheading era turned out not to be in its “post” phase shortly after Tharwat filed his column, as the Islamic State beheaded British hostage Alan Henning, followed by the Sinai-based Sunni Islamic group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which took credit Sunday for beheading three Egyptian nationals. These were actual, rather than symbolic, decapitations.
Abdullah’s celebration was relatively tame and inoffensive, and shows of spirituality have been frequent in sports. Abdullah himself said he thought the penalty was for sliding on his knees into the endzone rather than for bowing his head in prayer. If the refs were consciously trying to insult his faith, they would have had to make some very rapid calculations, as Abdullah’s pick-six, including a 38-yard run, took only seven seconds, and the flag was thrown a mere two seconds after his touchdown.
The most abhorrent things on display in the game were the New England Patriots’ defense and the refs’ poor decision making. There were no instances of militants joining the Islamic State for either reason. Tharwat’s claims are overwrought, hyperbolic foolishness.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.