The NFL Referees Association, which represents the on-field officials, is hitting back at the league after two high-profile calls were described as incorrect by the league office.
According to the Referees Association, both of the two calls in question — an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Hussain Abdullah for sliding to the ground in prayer after a touchdown, and a hit on Philadelphia’s Nick Foles by Washington’s Chris Baker — were graded as correct by the officiating department. Those grades were given despite the league office announcing publicly, in both cases, that the calls were wrong.
“In the last two weeks, two penalties that were called in games that drew national attention were publicly announced to be in error by the League office, however the Officiating Department later graded the calls as correct. This has caused confusion for NFL officials as to what the League does and doesn’t want called,” the Referees Association said in a statement.
The flag on Baker, which precipitated a fracas on the field, was criticized by NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, who said, “Baker didn’t do anything wrong with that hit.” But the Referees Association says the official who threw that flag was told the next day that he got the call right.
The flag on Abdullah, a Muslim, had the potential to become a major controversy about religious discrimination in the NFL, as Christian players routinely pray in the end zone without getting flagged. The NFL quickly released a statement saying Abdullah should not have been flagged for his end zone prayer, as players are permitted to make religious expressions after scoring touchdowns. But the Referees Association says Abdullah was correctly flagged for sliding onto his knees, not for praying.
“The player was flagged, correctly, for the slide on his knees in the end zone, not for going to the ground in a prayerful gesture,” said former ref Scott Green in the Referees Association’s statement. “On field officials are aware of the prayer provision and respect the right of players of all faiths to express themselves.”
If the league office is telling the officials that they got a call right, while telling players, coaches and the public that the call was wrong, that’s a big problem. The NFL needs to clear this up.