When Fort Myers High school football player Sam Turner reached the end zone Friday night with the first touchdown of his high school career, he took a few seconds to bow down and thank the Lord, but that simple act ended up having a major consequence.
Turner, 16, who briefly bent down on one knee, placed his finger in the air and prayed to the Lord, was dealt a 15-yard penalty, with an official dubbing the prayerful act unsportsmanlike conduct, according to the News-Press.
“I said ‘thank you, God, for this talent you’ve blessed me with,’” Turner told the outlet, explaining that he also gave a quick remembrance to JoJo Brunson, a student who was killed in a drive-by shooting last year.
Watch Florida student’s end-zone act below:
While he was surprised to be penalized for praying, Turner told the News-Press that he has been given a great deal of support from people who are proud that he stood up for his values.
“I use my faith as a platform for my talents. My teammates are giving my tons of support,” he said. “They all know I’m strong believer, even though it cost us 15 yards.”
In a separate interview with WINK-TV, Turner said that he attempted to tell the referee what he was doing, but to no avail.
“I saw the flag and I was so confused at first. I was like, ‘Are you seriously flagging me right now? What did I do wrong?’” he said. “Eventually the ref came up and talked to me and said I was trying to bring attention to myself and I was trying to explain to him that that wasn’t the case at all. I wasn’t trying to bring attention to myself I was just trying to thank God.”
WINK-TV noted that the National Federation of State High School Associations’ rules allow for a player to be penalized for any act that places excessive focus on him or herself.
In the National Football League, though, players are permitted to act as Turner did, so long as they are observing their faith. The NFL confirmed this sentiment following furor over a similar situation in which Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized for an on-field prayer.
FMHS senior Sam Turner heartened by support after prayer following his first-ever TD is penalized. pic.twitter.com/s5FhJDkAww
— Michael Braun (@MichaelBraunNP) November 2, 2014
Following debate over the decision, NFL spokesman Michael Signora told NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk that the referee made a bad call.
“Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct following his fourth quarter touchdown. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) states ‘players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground,’” he said. “However, the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression, and as a result, there should have been no penalty on the play.”