The game was a state semifinal match between the Tumwater Thunderbirds and the East Valley Knights at the Tacoma Dome.
Tumwater High School running back Ronnie Hastie scored a touchdown on a gorgeous 23-yard run in the second quarter of the team's win (63-27) over East Valley in Washington.
After Hastie scored, he dropped to one knee and pointed to the heavens. Hastie later explained:
"It's my way of giving glory to God, not to myself. I want to give God the credit. He gives me the strength. He's the one who gives me these abilities in the first place....It's something I've done as a tradition."
The referee, whose purpose is to make sure the competition is fair and safe, literally threw a penalty flag at him and said he was showing unsportsmanlike conduct. Unsportsmanlike conduct? Guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct because of a two-or-four-second celebration, which was deemed "excessive"?
It would appear, according to the official rules, that Hastie did not follow the "immediately must return the ball" rule, but he was not guilty of "unsportsmanlike conduct." NCAA Football Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(1)(d) prohibits:
"Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves);" in addition, Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(2) asserts that "After a score or any other play, the player in possession immediately must return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot."
"Additionally, if a player's actions is considered 'unsportsmanlike conduct,' the result is dead-ball foul; a 'flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct' foul requires player ejection. If a player’s nonfootball-related act (e.g. taunting or cursing) causes an opponent to physically retaliate, it is considered fighting and both players are ejected."
Seeing as how the referee is given discretion to determine if a player's actions disrupt a game, this is one rule that is there to be intelligently enforced--best applied only if appropriately helpful to the circumstance. In this case, as there was no harm to the opponents or to the integrity of the game, enforcement of the rule by the referee did nothing to aid the game. Penalty should not have been called.
Hastie was accused by the referee of drawing attention to himself, but actually that is an accusation more appropriately fitting to the referee. He is the one who interjected himself into a game where he was not needed.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association will be taking another look to see if the referee's call made any sense. Since the rule is there, Hastie has already agreed that the next time he scores a touchdown this season, he will follow the rule (i.e., give the football immediately to the official) for the sake of the team in order to avoid the chance of penalty, "I'll just point to the sky once I'm off the field."
photo by Tony Overman