Update: The NFL responded to the controversy Tuesday morning, saying that Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for his prayer.
After Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah knelt down in the end zone in what appeared to be a prayer of thanksgiving Monday night, he was cited for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Just moments before this simple act, Abdullah, a practicing Muslim, intercepted the football from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and scored a touchdown.
Then, he bowed down with little to no fanfare and placed his head on the ground.
It was that brief act that led the head referee to cite Abdullah for "falling to the ground on the knees" when announcing the infraction, as Yahoo! Sports reported.
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."
A tweet and Instagram message Abdullah sent Tuesday morning appear to corroborate that he was likely appealing to God on the field. The text accompanying an image of him kneeling down read: "Subhana Rabbial-'Ala" (Glory be to my Lord The Most High)."
Critics initially questioned why some Christian players haven't been penalized for taking similar actions on the field.
The New York Daily News said that Abdullah's purported prayer was a "sajdah," an invocation of thanksgiving to Allah that involves touching one's head to the ground.
It should be noted that the NFL's rules are vague when it comes to celebratory prayer and thanksgiving, which could be at the root of the initial ruling.
The regulations read, in part: "Individual players involved in prolonged or excessive celebrations. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground. A celebration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate after a warning from an official."
Invocations aren't specifically mentioned in the rules, though Mike Pereira, former vice-president of officiating in the National Football League, tweeted last year that players are "not penalized for going to the ground to give praise after a [touchdown]."
The NFL's response will likely be welcomed by critics who found themselves troubled by the initial call.