Unsportsmanlike penalty for praying?


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Fort Myers High School football player Sam Turner kneels in the end zone after scoring a touchdown on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014, against Riverdale. The official called Turner for unsportsmanlike conduct for calling attention to himself by kneeling and praying in the end zone after scoring. Photo by Cyndi L. Hendry

Fort Myers, Florida — Sam Turner, a 16-year-old tight end for the Fort Myers High School Green Wave, was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after scoring a touchdown.

Turner earned the penalty after raising his hands in the air to honor a teammate who was murdered, and then took a knee to thank God. The celebration last all of about five seconds.

“I felt like I had to thank God for blessing me with the talent and passion to play football,” Turner said. “So I dropped to a knee and thanked God for everything he’s done in my life.”

This penalty has sparked much debate about whether or not Turner was penalized for prayer or not. Although, the Florida High School Athletic Association or FHSAA and the South Gulf Football Officials Association said Turner was not penalized for praying, but instead was penalized for violating Rule 9-5, Article 1 of the 2014 National Federation of State High School Associations football rulebook. The rule states “any delayed, excessive, or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention upon himself.” The league stated that any gesture lasting 5 seconds or more is considered delaying the game.

“It was deemed excessive celebration in a manner that drew attention to the player,” FHSAA spokesman Cory Sober said. “I believe the arm motion is what drew the flag and not kneeling or the prayer.”

Sobers also stated “It’s a judgment call. The penalty is not because he prayed. It’s because the official determined he was trying to focus attention on himself and that’s the bigger issue in the official’s viewpoint.”

Turner said he was never trying to draw any attention. “I was trying to thank God in my own personal way,” Turned said. “What better way to do it than to drop down on a knee and humble yourself before him?”

Turner said he will follow the rules from now on and will give all of his praise to God on the sidelines.

By Brandon Wilson